Behind Closed Doors: Congress Trying to Force Indefinite Detention Bill on Americans
Maybe you spent the last weekend shopping for gifts, writing out holiday cards or studying for final exams. For most of America, the end of the year is a busy time. In Congress, this is a season usually spent trying to jam through bad bills while they hope no one is looking.
The Senate voted last Thursday to pass S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would authorize the president to send the military literally anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial. Prison based on suspicion alone. The power is so sweeping that the president would be able to direct the military to use its powers within the United States itself, and even lock up American citizens without charge or trial.
No corner of the world, not even your own home, would be off-limits to the military. And there is no exception for American citizens. Section 1031 — one of the indefinite detention provisions — of the Senate-approved version of the NDAA has no limitations whatsoever based on geography, duration or citizenship. And the entire Senate bill was drafted in secret, with no hearing, and with committee votes behind closed doors.
I’m not sure which was more surprising — that the majority of senators ignored the pleas of countless constituents, or that they also ignored every top national security official opposed to the provisions. Opposition to the detention provisions came from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, White House Advisor for Counterterrorism John Brennan, and DOJ National Security Division head Lisa Monaco. The Senate ignored them all.
Back in May, the House of Representatives passed its own version of the NDAA, which had a provision authorizing worldwide war wherever any terrorism suspect resides, even if there is no threat to America or Americans. Buried in the bill is a sentence that lets the president order the military to lock up without charge or trial American citizens and anyone else he decides is a suspect, even if the person is right here in America or in such friendly countries as Canada, Great Britain, or France.
Now, the two bills are in conference committee. The chairmen and ranking members of the Armed Services Committee — known as “the Big Four” — have been having one secret meeting after another over the past few days to quickly write a final bill. Who are the Big Four? From the Senate, it is Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) who were the very two who had secretly written the Senate indefinite detention provisions. The third member is the House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who is the person who wrote the House indefinite detention provisions without so much as a hearing. And the fourth member is the House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who courageously fought the indefinite detention provisions on the House floor.
That’s 3-1 for indefinite military imprisonment without charge or trial. There’s good reason to worry about what the Big Four do in their secret meetings.
What happens next? First, there will be a more formal House-Senate conference in the next few days to put an official stamp of approval on what the Big Four wrote in secret. And then the bills will be on the floors of the House and Senate by early next week.
Their plan is to move very, very fast. Congress certainly has earned a reputation for being slow, but the plan for the NDAA is to jam it through the House and Senate with as little debate as possible. But you can help stop them.
Amazingly, as soon as a week from today, a final bill could be passed by Congress and headed to President Obama’s desk. His White House has repeatedly threatened to veto the NDAA if these dangerous provisions stay in the bill.
But should it really come to that? Congress itself should come to its senses and ditch the indefinite detention provisions. And just as importantly, Congress should listen to you and every other American on what we all as Americans want for our country. Secret deals for indefinite military detention without charge or trial? Tell Congress we are better than that. It’s not who we are as Americans, and it is not the country or the world we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Now is the time to act and contact your senators and House member. Tell them vote “NO” on the NDAA if it includes indefinite detention without charge or trial.
– As Jessica Shaver and I chat at a coffee shop in Chicago’s north-side Andersonville neighborhood, a police car pulls into the parking lot across the street. Then another. Two cops get out, lean up against their cars, and appear to gaze across traffic into the store. At times, they seem to be looking directly at us. Shaver, who works as an eyebrow waxer at a nearby spa, appears nervous.
“See what I mean? They follow me,” says Shaver, 30. During several phone conversations Shaver told me that she thinks a small group of Chicago police officers are trying to intimidate her. These particular cops likely aren’t following her; the barista tells me Chicago cops regularly stop in that particular parking lot to chat. But if Shaver is a bit paranoid, it’s hard to blame her.
A year and a half ago she was beaten by a neighborhood thug outside of a city bar. It took months of do-it-yourself sleuthing, a meeting with a city alderman and a public shaming in a community newspaper before the Chicago Police Department would pay any attention to her. About a year later, Shaver got more attention from cops than she ever could have wanted: A team of Chicago cops took down her door with a battering ram and raided her apartment, searching for drugs.
Shaver has no evidence that the two incidents are related, and they likely aren’t in any direct way. But they provide a striking example of how the drug war perverts the priorities of America’s police departments. Federal anti-drug grants, asset forfeiture policies and a generation of battlefield rhetoric from politicians have made pursuing low-level drug dealers and drug users a top priority for police departments across the country. There’s only so much time in the day, and the focus on drugs often comes at the expense of investigating violent crimes with victims like Jessica Shaver. In the span of about a year, she experienced both problems firsthand.
On the night of May 13, 2010, Shaver was smoking a cigarette with her friend Damon outside the Flat Iron bar in Wicker Park. She said she saw a woman walking away from the bar alone when two men began shouting profanities at her. The men then began walking toward the woman. “I made eye contact with her, and she looked like she was in trouble,” Shaver said.
Shaver shouted at the men to leave the woman alone, at which point she says the the two men turned their attention to her, approached her, and began shouting at her. Damon told the men to leave Shaver alone. They jumped Damon and began to beat him. Shaver said she then tried to pry the men off her friend, and managed to free him long enough for him to get away and call 911. Shaver said she was punched repeatedly, including in the face. She fell, stood up, and was hit in the face again. The men then robbed her and left. When she woke up the next morning with bruises, she went to the hospital. Doctors found a concussion and several contusions.
Two weeks later, Shaver still hadn’t heard from the detective assigned to her case. When she finally went to the police station in person to get an update on the investigation, she was told there was no record of the incident. She filed another report, but was told it was unlikely police would be able to track down the witnesses again, and that even if they were, the witnesses’ memories were likely to have faded. Shaver says she decided to investigate on her own. She went back to the Flat Iron and questioned customers and employees herself. A bartender gave her the men’s nicknames: “Cory” and “Sonny,” the guy who hit her. Shaver learned that Sonny was also a reputed cocaine dealer. She heard he had a violent streak, and had been banned from a number of neighborhood bars.
“I was scared,” Shaver said. “I’d heard bad things about this guy, and he knew who I was.”
Shaver is thoroughly tattooed, which makes her easy to recognize. So she dyed her hair, covered her tattoos with clothing, and kept investigating. She worked her way through social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace until she was able to put actual names to her attackers’ faces and nicknames. And yet she still couldn’t get anyone at Chicago PD to help her. “I gave them the guy’s name and everything,” she said. “There were even hip hop videos online with him in them. I told them,‘That’s the guy!’ They still wouldn’t listen to me.”
In August 2010, three months after the attack, Shaver contacted a reporter for Time Out Chicago, who began asking around about her case. Shaver also met with Chicago Alderman Joe Marino. Shortly before the Time Out article went to press, a detective finally called Shaver down to the police station to identify her attacker. But even with her identification, the police didn’t arrest “Sonny.” He wasn’t charged with the assault until the following month, when he was arrested on an unrelated domestic violence charge.
Shortly after she finally identified her attacker at the police station, Shaver said the detective in charge of her case told her, “Now I don’t want to hear any more bitching from you.”
Arresting people for assaults, beatings and robberies doesn’t bring money back to police departments, but drug cases do in a couple of ways. First, police departments across the country compete for a pool of federal anti-drug grants. The more arrests and drug seizures a department can claim, the stronger its application for those grants.
“The availability of huge federal anti-drug grants incentivizes departments to pay for SWAT team armor and weapons, and leads our police officers to abandon real crime victims in our communities in favor of ratcheting up their drug arrest stats,” said former Los Angeles Deputy Chief of Police Stephen Downing. Downing is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an advocacy group of cops and prosecutors who are calling for an end to the drug war.
“When our cops are focused on executing large-scale, constitutionally questionable raids at the slightest hint that a small-time pot dealer is at work, real police work preventing and investigating crimes like robberies and rapes falls by the wayside,” Downing said.
And this problem is on the rise all over the country. Last year, police in New York City arrested around 50,000 people for marijuana possession. Pot has been decriminalized in New York since 1977, but displaying the drug in public is still a crime. So police officers stop people who look “suspicious,” frisk them, ask them to empty their pockets, then arrest them if they pull out a joint or a small amount of marijuana. They’re tricked into breaking the law. According to a report from Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, there were 33,775 such arrests from 1981 to 1995. Between 1996 and 2010 there were 536,322.
Several NYPD officers have alleged that in some precincts, police officers are asked to meet quotas for drug arrests. Former NYPD narcotics detective Stephen Anderson recently testified in court that it’s common for cops in the department to plant drugs on innocent people to meet those quotas — a practice for which Anderson himself was then on trial.
At the same time, there’s increasing evidence that the NYPD is paying less attention to violent crime. In an explosive Village Voice series last year, current and former NYPD officers told the publication that supervising officers encouraged them to either downgrade or not even bother to file reports for assault, robbery and even sexual assault. The theory is that the department faces political pressure to produce statistics showing that violent crime continues to drop. Since then, other New Yorkers have told the Voice that they have been rebuffed by NYPD when trying to report a crime.
The most perverse policy may be asset forfeiture. Under civil asset forfeiture, police can seize property from people merely suspected of drug crimes. So long as police can show even the slightest link of drug activity to a car, some cash, or even a home, they can seize it. In the majority of cases, most or all of the seized cash goes back to the police department. In some cases, the department has taken possession of cars as well, but generally non-cash property is auctioned off, with the proceeds then going back to the department. An innocent person who has property seized must go to court and prove his property was earned legitimately, even if he was never charged with a crime. The process of going to court can often be more expensive than the value of the property itself.
Asset forfeiture not only encourages police agencies to use resources and manpower on drug crimes at the expense of violent crimes, it also provides an incentive for police agencies to actually wait until drugs are on the streets before making a bust. In a 1994 study reported in Justice Quarterly, criminologists J. Mitchell Miller and Lance H. Selva watched several police agencies delay busts of suspected drug dealers in order to maximize the cash the department could seize. A stash of illegal drugs isn’t of much value to a police department. Letting the dealers sell the drugs first is more lucrative.
Earlier this year, Nashville’s News 5 ran a report on how police in Tennessee are pulling over suspected drug dealers and seizing their cash along I-40, often without bothering to make an arrest. The station combed through police reports showing that officers spent 10 times as long policing the side of the interstate where a drug runner would be leaving after he sold his supply — and thus would be flush with sizable amounts of cash — than on the side where he was likely to be flush with drugs. The police were letting the drugs be sold in order to get their hands on the cash.
Back in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) recently signed a new law that will require convicted drug dealers to reimburse the police agencies that arrested and prosecuted them. The law will provide even more incentive for departments to devote time and resources to drug crimes — and that shift comes at the expense of solving more serious crimes.
The bill does not require reimbursement from convicted rapists or murderers.
Which means battery victims like Shaver can expect even less cooperation from police as more officers are moved to investigations that pay for themselves — and then some.
Shaver’s next encounter with Chicago police came in April of this year. She and her then-boyfriend were living on the first floor of a three-story graystone in the Edgewood neighborhood. “Nate,” a friend of Shaver’s boyfriend whom Shaver describes as a “stoner hippie,” was between residences, and asked if he could sleep on their couch while he waited for his new apartment to become available. They agreed.
“He never had keys,” Shaver said. “He’d text us when he was coming home to sleep, and one of us would let him in. He had been here about a week before the raid.”
The raid came on the night of April 14, 2010, part of a series of drug raids across Chicago that night by the city’s Mobile Strike Force and Targeted Response Unit, essentially a SWAT team.
Shaver, her then-boyfriend and a roommate were in the apartment with her four dogs when the door flew open with the crash of a battering ram. “I thought we were being robbed,” Shaver recalled. “It wasn’t clear to us that they were cops at all. I had a flashback to my attack. I was just terrified. I peed myself. I had peed myself, and I was shaking, trying to gather my dogs while they were pointing these guns at me — these huge guns that could blow me apart. My Vizsla mix ran off, and I was afraid they were going to shoot it. I asked if I could get it, and they said ‘We don’t give a fuck about your dog.’”
According to the search warrant, the police were searching for Nate. Shaver said they looked through Nate’s belongings gathered on the couch and found about $900 and a sandwich bag filed with marijuana. They didn’t leave a receipt for what they took.
“They were going through his mail,” she said. “They tried to say he was my brother. They kept looking for some way to say he had always lived here. He had mail here, but it was mail he brought from his old place. It all had his old address on it.”
Shaver’s boyfriend and roommate were handcuffed. Shaver started to panic. She told the police about her prior assault, and asked if she could take some anti-anxiety medication and change her clothes. They refused.
“There were 20 to 25 cops in my apartment now. Some of them were in street clothes. Some of them were in SWAT clothes with face masks. They told me I wasn’t allowed to move. I wasn’t even certain they were police until about two hours later, when a uniformed cop showed up with the warrant,” she recalled.
Shaver says she heard laughter from her bathroom and bedroom. “They went to my bathroom and started going through all of my medication, laughing about how messed up I was,” she said. “I also have a ‘lady drawer,‘ where I keep sex toys and some sex-related gag gifts friends have given me.” Shaver said that when the cops finally left, they had left her place a shambles. When she looked in her bedroom, the police had emptied the drawer and laid all of her sex toys out on her bed.
The raid ruined the door to Shaver’s apartment and she has since been evicted. She filed a complaint with Chicago PD, but never heard back. When she attempted to get a copy of the affidavit for the search warrant to see what probable cause they had for such a violent raid, she was told that since she was not the target of the raid, she is not allowed to see the affidavit. As for “Nate,” authorities have yet to issue a warrant for his arrest. Chicago PD and the officer who left Shaver his number after the raid did not return The Huffington Post’s requests for comment.
FIGHTING CONSENSUAL CRIMES IN A VIOLENT CITY
“This case is a perfect example of how the war on drugs distracts police from doing the job we hired them for,” Downing said.
Chicago is one of the most violent cities in the country, and is home to America’s most violent neighborhood. The city is usually left out of annual “Most Dangerous Cities” lists because of disputes between the state of Illinois and the FBI on how crimes are reported, but Chicago has roughly triple the murder rate of New York City, and double that of Los Angeles. Crime has gone down in Chicago over the last 20 years as it has in the rest of the country, but at a slower rate than in cities of similar size.
Perhaps more tellingly, the city’s clearance rate — the percentage of homicides solved by police — was 70 percent in 1991. It dropped to under 40 percent in 2008 and 2009. According to a report (PDF) from the criminal justice reform advocacy group The Sentencing Project, drug offenses made up 4.8 percent of Chicago PD arrests in 1980. In 2003, they made up 28.2 percent. The overall number of drug arrests increased 264 percent over that period. An analysis by the Marijuana Policy Almanac found that from 2002 to 2007 alone, overall pot arrests in Cook County jumped from 25,776 to 32,996.
The drug war’s financial incentives appear to be having an effect. A drug offender is much more likely to be arrested in Chicago than he was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. But kill someone in Chicago, and you’re only about half as likely to be caught as you were in the early 1990s.
Last July, more than a year after her attack, Shaver’s assailant “Sonny” was finally convicted. He was sentenced to six months of probation. Reflecting back on the last tumultuous two years, Shaver says, “It just doesn’t make sense. Repeat violent offenders get to walk while casual pot smokers get terrorized by SWAT teams. I’m pretty disappointed in the justice system.”
AIPAC’s “War With Iran” Bill Passes House Committee
Wasting no time after its success in getting the administration to oppose Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, and still celebrating the UNESCO funding cut-off, AIPAC has returned to its #1 priority: pushing for war with Iran.
The Israelis have, of course, played their own part in the big show. In the last few weeks, it has been sending out signals that it is getting ready to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities (and embroil the United States in its most calamitous Middle East war yet).
But most observers do not believe an Israeli attack is imminent. (If it was, would Israel telegraph it in advance?) The point of the Israeli threats is to get the United States and the world community to increase pressure on Iran with the justification that unless it does, Israel will attack.
Naturally, the United States Congress, which gets its marching orders on Middle East policy from the lobby which, in turn, gets its marching orders from Binyamin Netanyahu, is rushing to do what it is told. (If only Congress addressed joblessness at home with the same alacrity and enthusiasm.)
Accordingly the House Foreign Affairs Committee hurriedly convened this week to consider a new “crippling sanctions” bill that seems less designed to deter an Iran nuclear weapon than to lay the groundwork for war.
The clearest evidence that war is the intention of the bill’s supporters comes in Section 601 which should be quoted in full. (It is so incredible that paraphrasing would invite the charge of distorting through selective quotation.)
(c) RESTRICTION ON CONTACT. — No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that — (1) is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran; and (2) presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations. (d) WAIVER. — The President may waive the requirements of subsection (c) if the President determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 15 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure to exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.
What does this mean?
It means that neither the president, the Secretary of State nor any U.S. diplomat or emissary may engage in negotiations or diplomacy with Iran of any kind unless the president convinces the “appropriate Congressional committees” (most significantly, the House Foreign Affairs Committee which is an AIPAC fiefdom) that not engaging with Iranian contacts would present an “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.”
To call this unprecedented is an understatement. At no time in our history has the White House or State Department been restricted from dealing with representatives of a foreign state, even in war time.
If President Roosevelt wanted to meet with Hitler, he could have and, of course, he did repeatedly meet with Stalin. During the Cold War, U.S. diplomats maintained continuous contacts with the Soviets, a regime that murdered tens of millions and, later, with the Chinese regime which murdered even more. And they did so without needing permission from Congress. (President Nixon was only able to normalize relations with China by means of secret negotiations which, had they been exposed, would have been torpedoed by the Republican right.)
But all the rules of normal statecraft are dropped when it comes to Iran which may, or may not, be working on developing a nuclear capacity. Of course if it is, it is obviously even more critical that the American government officials speak to Iranian counterparts.
But preventing diplomacy is precisely what Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Howard Berman (D-CA), leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee which reported out this bill, seek. They and others who back the measure want another war and the best way to get it is to ban diplomacy (which exists, of course, to prevent war).
Think back, for example, to the Cuban missile crisis. The United States and the monstrous, nuclear armed Soviet regime were on the brink of war over Cuba, a war that might have destroyed the planet.
Neither President Kennedy nor Premier Khrushchev knew how to end the crisis, especially because both were being pushed by their respective militaries not to back down.
Then, at the darkest moment of the crisis, when war seemed inevitable, an ABC correspondent named John Scali secretly met with a Soviet official in New York who described a way to end the crisis that would satisfy his bosses. That meeting was followed by another secret meeting between the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and a Soviet official in Washington. Those meetings led to a plan that ended the crisis and, perhaps, saved the world.
Needless to say, Kennedy did not ask for the permission of the House Foreign Affairs Committee either to conduct secret negotiations or to implement the terms of the deal. In fact, it was decades before the details of the deal were revealed.
It is this latitude to conduct diplomacy that the lobby and its cutouts on Capitol Hill want to take away from the White House. And it’s latitude that is especially essential if it is determined that Iran is trying to assemble a nuclear arsenal.
Writing in the Washington Post last week, Fareed Zakaria explained that the best way to approach Iran is not to ban diplomacy but to intensify it, nukes or no nukes.
Obama should return to his original approach and test the Iranians to see if there is any room for dialogue and agreement. Engaging with Iran, putting its nuclear program under some kind of supervision and finding areas of common interest (such as Afghanistan) would all be important goals…
Strategic engagement with an adversary can go hand in hand with a policy that encourages change in that country. That’s how Washington dealt with the Soviet Union and China in the 1970s and 1980s. Iran is a country of 80 million people, educated and dynamic. It sits astride a crucial part of the world. It cannot be sanctioned and pressed down forever. It is the last great civilization to sit outside the global order. We need a strategy that combines pressure with a path to bring Iran in from the cold.
In other words, it is time for more diplomacy not less — even if that means offending a powerful lobby that is hell-bent for war.
Dr. Ron Paul’s 11-Point Plan That Could Save America
Have Americans read Dr. Ron Paul’s written plan for the country? Are Americans ready to upset the apple cart in a controlled and methodical way for the betterment of the greater good? The main source I am referencing here is Dr. Ron Paul’s website, so that we can debate his priorities and proposed approaches. I have paraphrased items from his site; however, I encourage the reader to thoroughly review all the links.
Here is Dr. Ron Paul’s 11-point plan:
11. Energy Independence: Eliminate the federal gas tax of $0.18 per gallon and eliminate the EPA, allowing prosecution of polluters to answer to citizens, not Washington, and allowing coal, oil, nuclear and other forms of energy to be safely explored.
10. Education: Dr. Paul would like to see the U.S. Department of Education return its powers to the states and parents. He proposes and intends to give parents a $5,000 tax credit per child for kids K-12 to help with all the costs of education. He is supportive of home-schooling and will veto legislation that interferes with parents choosing to home-school their children.
9. Workers’ Rights: Dr. Ron Paul is against forcing workers to join unions and pay dues if they do not want to, citing the $8 billion that union leaders bring in annually that is often given to political candidates. He does not want workers forced to belong to unions or to be under union control against their will.
8. Protect Gun Rights: Protecting the right of Americans to keep and bear arms. Here is an example of a town that required each head of household to own a gun. This policy resulted in decreased crime.
7. Heath Care: Dr. Ron Paul will repeal Obamacare, allow for tax credits and deductions for all medical expenses and not allow money that belongs in Medicare or Medicaid to be misused for other purposes. He will protect the privacy of American citizens’ medical records from the federal government, remove barriers for all citizens to have HSAs and keep the FDA out of vitamins and alternative treatments. Also, he wants to provide payroll deductions for terminal illnesses and caregivers.
6. Pro-Life Issue: Here is the one fact all Americans need to know. Dr. Paul is the only Republican candidate who has said, “So while Roe v. Wade is invalid, a federal law banning abortion across all 50 states would be equally invalid.” Abortion is one of the most divisive issues and may always be a divisive issue as long as Americans have freedom of religion and the right to be, think and feel differently. Dr. Ron Paul may be personally pro-life; however, his voting record indicates that, even if a bill attempting to make abortion illegal federally in the U.S. were passed by the House and Senate, Dr. Paul would veto the bill as unconstitutional. Which other Republican candidate has a track record to indicate that? Would Dr. Paul look to put pro-life judges on the Supreme Court bench? Probably as much as past Republican presidents. The current Democratic President has recently placed two women on the Supreme Court, and new Justices are appointed only when a Justice dies or retires. Six Republican Presidential candidates have already signed the Susan B. Anthony List 2012. Dr. Ron Paul is the safest Republican candidate because he would veto anti-abortion bills at the federal level and support states that chose to protect women’s reproductive rights. His other strong Constitution-based reforms outweigh the small risk that Roe v. Wade would be overturned during his term, returning the power to the states, who can then protect women’s reproductive rights, as Vermont has. Would he truly respect the states’ rights on this, considering his strong personal stand? Many progressive states have anti-abortion laws on their books that are not enforceable due to Roe v. Wade. So far, Dr. Paul has written bills to make it possible for states to make abortion illegal in the Sanctity of Life bill. He wrote the We the People Act, which, if passed, would render Roe v. Wade invalid and return powers to the states. He signed the Susan B. Anthony list, which describes federally defunding all abortions and Planned Parenthood. If Dr. Paul can fix the economic mess, is the slight chance that Roe v. Wade would be rendered invalid something Americans are willing risk for the betterment of the country in many other important areas? We will not ever go back to a time before birth control, morning-after pills, RU 486, the Internet and other advancements. Certain states, even with Roe v. Wade, are extremely restrictive.
5. Immigration: In Dr. Paul’s own words:
Immigration reform should start with improving our border protection, yet it was reported last week that the federal government has approved the recruitment of 120 of our best trained Border Patrol agents to go to Iraq to train Iraqis how to better defend their borders! This comes at a time when the National Guard troops participating in Operation Jump Start are being removed from border protection duties in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan! It is an outrage and it will result in our borders being more vulnerable to illegal entry, including by terrorists.
Also, we need to take serious steps to prevent terrorists from gaining easy access to targets on our soil. Quite alarmingly, even with the knowledge that the 19 terrorist hijackers entered our country legally, and that 15 of them were from Saudi Arabia , student visas from terrorist sponsoring countries are still far too easily obtained. In a baffling move President Bush struck a deal with Saudi King Abdullah in 2005 to allow 21,000 more Saudi young men into the US on student Visas. Of course, not all students from terror sponsoring countries are terrorists, but I place a higher premium on the security of the American people than the convenience of citizens of hostile countries. We should not be making the goals of would-be terrorists easier to accomplish, but rather should be vigilant about defending against enemies at every turn. They should not be slipping through our doors so easily, using our immigration laws against us, and that is why I proposed the Terror Immigration Elimination Act (HR 3217) to toughen standards for VISAS from countries on the State Department’s list of terrorist sponsoring countries in addition to Saudi Arabia . Just as you decide who to invite to a dinner party in your home, we should be in charge of who we allow in this country, without apology.
Both the Bush administration and congressional leadership have promised to spend the next two months addressing national security issues. But real national security cannot be achieved unless and until our borders are physically secured. It’s as simple as that. All the talk about fighting terror and making America safer is meaningless without border security. It makes no sense to seek terrorists abroad if our own front door is left unlocked.
In short, Dr. Paul’s plan is to secure the border, end amnesty, abolish welfare to illegal immigrants, end birthright citizenship and protect lawful immigrants.
4. National Defense: Dr. Paul’s approach is simple. He believes in a strong national defense and is against militarism — in other words, protect the U.S. but do not police the world and require congressional approval before declaring war. The last time the U.S. formally declared war was World War II in 1941. Dr. Paul would bring the troops home to protect America. Dr. Paul said he would get the troops home as soon as the ships would get here. He is the largest recipient of donations from soldiers in the U.S. military, getting 71 percent of all military donations.
3. Taxes: Dr. Paul would support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolishes income and death taxes. Ideally, he’d like to close the IRS. He would seek to repeal capital gains taxes and reduce then abolish taxes on Social Security. Before a flat or fair tax would be implemented, Dr. Paul would ensure that the 16th Amendment, which made income taxation legal, would be repealed so we don’t end up with both.
2. End the Fed: The Fed was created in a time of turmoil and seems similar to the Patriot Act in that it was done from a position of hysteria, not logical and rational decision-making. The U.S. Constitution is considered such a well thought-through document as it was drafted in a time of peace rather than as a reaction to a panic. Documents and policies that are reviewed and seen in the light of day by calm, rational people tend to be better for the long-term wellness of the people than policies passed quickly in an emotional, reactive and hurried manner. Dr. Paul equates the Fed with deeply-in-debt parents sending their teenagers out with credit cards and blank checks. Dr. Paul’s ultimate goal would be to see the Fed end, yet he would not act rashly. What his focus would be is a full and complete audit of the Fed, as Congress is currently unable to audit the Fed. Dr. Paul would commit to passing legislation that requires transparency and accountability from the Fed. At this time, the Fed can keep secret to whom they are lending trillions of taxpayers’ dollars. If the Fed is handling American money responsibly, for what reason would they refuse to open their books? We American citizens are all subject to audits from the IRS, but the U.S. central bank is not? Please take three minutes to watch this amazing video of Bernie Sanders asking Ben Bernanke, where $2.2 trillion of taxpayer money is. Bernanke will not answer the question and will not disclose where $2.2 trillion went, and he doesn’t have to.
1. Economy: Dr. Paul’s plan is to audit the Fed, veto any unbalanced budget and refuse to raise the debt ceiling. He is also committed to getting rid of self-dealing and corruption in D.C. Additionally, he will eliminate income taxes, capital gains taxes and death taxes. It would be a breath of fresh air to have the Fed audited and wasteful government spending eliminated, and to actually be able to keep more of the money we make. America’s debt did not come out of nowhere. In 2008, the U.S. had spent $3 trillion on the war in Iraq. The current costs are at $3.2 to $4 trillion. How much did we vote to increase the debt ceiling? We raised the $14.3-trillion debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion, to $16.7 trillion on Aug. 2, 2011. Here is a great 10-minute video with Dr. Paul clearly stating how, if elected president in 2012, he would balance the budget in one year.
In this discussion, I request that emotional reactions and sarcasm be set aside. The goal is an accurate, clear and truthful dialogue. We are blessed with a group of knowledgeable Americans making comments here. What I want to suggest is that we discuss what is best for the greater good for our country, not just for ourselves.
Any presidential choice we make involves a risk. Is he lying and manipulating to win the election, or is he honest? Will she serve American citizens ethically and honorably as president? The U.S. Constitution was created to unite the states in our country in certain crucial areas, like national defense, while allowing states their autonomy and uniqueness. In the spirit of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, good character is the most essential quality to bring to our government. Dr. Paul combines solid character and backbone with seasoned wisdom and experience. He has not compromised the values and principles that America holds dear.
If you are not going to register as a Republican and vote for Dr. Ron Paul in the primary, who do you think is better, and for what reasons? Don’t state what you dislike about Dr. Paul’s plan. It is easy to shoot someone’s ideas down.
“[At times of hysteria] that is all the more reason the President has to speak out for what is right. Otherwise, he’s got no reason being in the White House. The President has to do the leading in a case like that. I’ve said before, the President is the only person in the government who represents the whole people. There are some who can afford to hire lobbyists and others to represent their special interests, but the President isn’t elected to pull strings for anybody. He’s elected to be the lobbyist for everybody in the United States. And, he is, too, if he’s any good.” –Harry Truman (from Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman, by Merle Miller, Tess Press 1974)
The Top 10 Reasons Why Dr. Ron Paul Is the Only Rational Choice
The top 10 reasons why Dr. Ron Paul is the only rational presidential choice for Americans, Democratic, Republican and Independent:
10. Dr. Paul works a real job, has run a small a business and served in the military. He has been a physician for 40 years, co-owned a coin store for 12 years and was a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. National Guard for five years. That was how our country was set up — for public servants to work a real job that they returned to after their public service was done. He has real skills and is not a professional politician.
9. Dr. Paul has decades of experience running a business and in depth knowlegde of health care.
8. Dr. Paul understands money and is chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology.
7. Dr. Paul does the right thing referencing the U.S. Constitution and works for the country versus campaigning for his ego. He has been serving the public in politics for over 40 years.
6. Dr. Paul refuses to accept a federal pension for his public service, something other members get after a short period because they do not have real jobs. According to Dr. Paul, to receive a pension for public service would be “hypocritical and immoral.”
5. Unlike most other candidates out there, Dr. Paul is not a good-looking, smooth-talking, snake charmer or charismatic zealot. He is a regular, plain-spoken person who says it the way it is.
4. Dr. Paul doesn’t care if big groups like him (like unions and businesses). His donations come primarily from individuals, not from groups. He is willing to serve his country honorably without personal gain. Dr. Paul will do what is right for the U.S. based on the Constitution whether or not big money or big government likes it.
3. Dr. Paul has written a bill, called the Sun Light Rule that requires our politicians have at least 10 days to read bills before signing them.
2. Dr. Paul will bring practical wisdom, cut spending, balance the budget, stabilize the economy and probably be able to do away with the IRS and income tax, a tax that is not constitutional and was started to fund the civil war and supposed to stop after the civil war. He wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education, giving the states and parents back control. He wants to do away with other large government agencies, restoring the rightful power to the states.
1. Dr. Paul’s old-fashioned decency, integrity, honor and real-life experience are exactly what our country needs after hiring actors, puppets, oil and other group-connected slick sales men and marketers. He’s been married to the same woman, Carol, for 54 years (married 1957).
Electing dishonorable, irresponsible, good-looking, smooth-talkers over the past several decades has eroded our country’s stability.
Are Americans finally ready to elect an honest, decent man who will not listen to non-sense from regular Americans, politicians or corporations? A president who will be accountable and hold us all accountable? I hope so.
“Special interests have replaced the concern that the Founders had for general welfare. Vote trading is seen as good politics. The errand-boy mentality is ordinary, the defender of liberty is seen as bizarre. It’s difficult for one who loves true liberty and utterly detests the power of the state to come to Washington for a period of time and not leave a true cynic.” — Dr. Paul
“He does not take money from corporate PACs. Lobbyists cannot sway him; to try is a waste of time. He never bargains with his own deeply held beliefs, nor does he cut backroom deals. Because his political views and his personal convictions are in complete harmony, he seldom faces a “tough” vote. And when the politicking for the week is over, he returns to his district to take up his lifelong occupation, which has nothing to do with politics.” — S. C. Gwynne
It’s hard to tell if the idea that Ron Paul cannot win in 2012 is more ignorant, in its complete lack of historical sophistication, or more arrogant, in its claim to certainty amid all the complexity of 300 million lives and the myriad issues that affect them.
Sometimes, perhaps once in a few generations, a nation can undergo what a mathematician or physicist would call a “phase change.” The classic example of such a thing is a pile of sand. Every grain you add makes the pile slightly steeper and slightly higher without moving any of the other grains inside the pile, until eventually one grain is added that causes an avalanche of sand down the sides of the pile, moving thousand of grains and changing the shape of the pile.
Such behavior can be exhibited by all complex systems, and a nation — it should be obvious — is much more complex than a pile of sand.
The important point for those who would presume to make such grand predictions as “Dr. Paul cannot win” is that no examination of the pile of sand before the point of avalanche would tell you that, or when, the avalanche will eventually happen.
But happen it does; indeed, happen it must.
And there are numerous examples of abrupt and dramatic phase change in the politics of great nations.
The U.K., the country of my birth, provides a compelling and closely relevant example. As every schoolboy knows, Churchill led Britain to victory in the Second World War. Indeed, he did as much as any man on Earth ever has to save civilization as we know it.
Three months after the entire nation poured into the streets to cheer this great leader (the man a few years ago voted by Britons the greatest Briton of all time), Churchill went to the country in a general election to retain his position as prime minister. There was simply no way he could lose. The best slogan the Labour party, his opposition, could come up with was, “Cheer Churchill. Vote Labour.”
And amazingly, that is exactly what the nation did. Churchill was defeated. No one anywhere — including the people of Britain who voted in the election — had even thought about the possibility. No newspaper had considered it. After all, the election was a foregone conclusion in Churchill’s favor. And yet an unseen, perhaps unconscious, will of the people caused a cultural and political phase-change in the British nation that they neither knew they wanted nor knew they had the power to cause.
Many historians now say that the unseen sentiment that produced this result that shocked not just the British but the whole world was the idea that all the blood and treasure lost to maintain the freedom of the British empire and the Western world demanded something more than continuation of the old political settlement. After a huge crisis, the people wanted a whole new system. In 1945, the Labour Party, with its vision of state-delivered cradle-to-grave security of health and basic material well-being (welfare state), in some way met that national desire for a grand political change.
Following what was in fact a landslide victory for the Labour party, the character of the nation changed massively, and more change rapidly followed in the British identity, as an empire was lost and the mantle of the world’s greatest power was handed to the U.S.A.
Those who have noted that one of Ron Paul’s greatest qualities is his humility might also be interested to know that Churchill had put down Clement Attlee, who defeated him, with the words, “A modest little man, with much to be modest about.”
Perhaps a more fanciful comparison, but nonetheless indicative: no one in China was predicting that the Long March of Mao, which began in defeat and despair, would end in Beijing with victory and the proclamation of a whole new nation under a whole new political system.
And which newspapers were pondering the possibility of the First World War just a month before it happened?
We cannot see past a phase change. I don’t know if the U.S.A. will have undergone one at the time of the 2012 election, but the necessary conditions for one are all in place, as far as I can tell.
One has to reach back a good way in American history for a time of such rapidly rising sentiment that not only are our leaders unable even to think of real solutions to the problems of greatest concern (rather than just making expedient changes at the margin), but also that the prevailing political and economic system is structurally incapable of delivering any long-term solutions in its current form.
The sheer range and interconnectedness of the problems that the nation faces are such that any permanent solution to any one of them will require profound systemic change that will necessarily upset many economic, political and cultural equilibria. And that is nothing more than a definition of a national phase change.
The average American may not know what is to be done, but she can sense when the system has exhausted all its possibilities. At that point, not only does the phase change become reasonable; it becomes desirable — even if what lies on the other side cannot be known.
As anyone can find out just by talking to a broad cross-section of Ron Paul’s supporters, his base is not uniform in its agreement on the standard issues of typical American party-political conflict. In fact, Paul supporters vary significantly even in their views of what in the old left-right paradigm were the “wedge-issues.” Rather, they are united around concepts that could almost be called meta-political: whether left and right really exist, and, if they do, whether they are really opposed; whether centralized government should even be the main vehicle for political change, etc.; and whether there are some principles that should be held sacrosanct for long-term benefit, even when they will hurt in the short-run.
For those with eyes to see, such realignments and re-prioritization may even be glimpses of America after its next phase change.
If Ron Paul has committed support from 10 percent of the adult population, and most of that 10 percent support him precisely because they believe he represents a whole new political system, an entirely new political settlement, then we may be close to critical mass — just a few grains of sand short of the avalanche.
Another piece of evidence that the nation is close to a phase change and a gestalt switch is the very fact that the prevailing paradigm (from which the mainstream media, established political class, etc., operate) has to ignore huge amounts of data about Ron Paul and the movement around him to continue to make any sense. The studied neglect of data as “irrelevant” is invariably indicative that the neglected data are hugely important. If information doesn’t really matter, why go to all the effort of ignoring it?
Specifically, on all the metrics that a year ago everyone accepted as useful indicators of political standing, Ron Paul is not just a front-runner but a strong one.
First, and most directly, he does extremely well in polls. The organization of his grassroots support is not just excellent; it is remarkable, by historic and global measures. His ability to raise money from actual voters is second to none. His appeal to independents and swing voters is an order of magnitude greater than that of his competitors. Secondarily, he has more support from military personnel than all other candidates put together, if measured by donations; he has the most consistent voting record; he has the magical quality of not coming off as a politician; he oozes integrity and authenticity, and, as far as we know, he has a personal life and marriage that reflects deep stability and commitment.
To believe that Ron Paul’s victory is a long shot in spite of all standard indicators that directly contradict this claim is to throw out all norms with which we follow our nation’s politics — and that is a huge thing to do. The only way it can be done honestly is to present another set of contradictory reasons or metrics that are collectively more powerful than all those that you are rejecting. I am yet to find them.
If it is true that the studied neglect of data to hold tight to a paradigm is the best evidence that the paradigm is about to collapse, then the massive and highly subjective neglect of all things Paulian is specific evidence that the country is moving in Paul’s direction.
Of course, none of this means that Paul will definitely win. But it does mean that a bet against him by a politician is foolhardy and by a journalist is dishonest.
It is worth returning to Churchill’s career for an even more delicious example: just days before he became the great wartime leader, his career had been written off as that of a kook, and he was being discussed as someone who had extreme ideas and whose thinking did not reflect the mood of the nation. The House of Commons was abuzz with his decline and imminent fall.
And then, rather suddenly, something he had been saying for many years — that there was something rotten in the state of Germany — became so obvious that it could no longer be avoided. Once the nation saw that he had been right all along, he became the leader of the free world in very short order. His career changed. Britain changed. The world changed. No one had seen that coming, either. In fact, everyone thought they knew what was coming: the kook was about to disappear into political backwaters, if not the political wilderness.
Do I even need to draw the parallel?
If Paul wins, it won’t be because he is the kind of candidate Americans have always gone for. It will be precisely because Americans have collectively decided on a dramatically new way of doing business — a new political and economic paradigm — and then he’ll not only have ceased to be a long shot; he’ll be the only shot.
“Travelling States of Emergency” Unmasked: Did British Colonial Repression Tactics Inspire the American DHS?
Posted: 06/ 6/11 10:56 AM ET
Have two Britishh academics found the key to why Americans keep being bombarded today with a discourse that highlights dramatic “emergency” events — that then leads inevitably to legislation that chips away (or chisels away) at what is left of the Constitution? I believe they have. Dr. Stephen Morton and Dr. Elleke Boehmer, in their very important new book, Terror and the Postcolonial, show how today’s headlines on CNN may have been crafted for use in India in the 1800s — perfected throughout the nineteenth century — and road-tested on unfortunate Irish citizens in the 1910s.
This weekend, in an Oxford lecture titled “Travelling Texts in a Time of Emergency“, Morton demonstrated that the British “practiced” techniques for repressing populations in their colonies. His conclusions are deeply relevant, not just to a British colonial or post-colonial reality but to the American “Homeland.”
He looked at an essay by Walter Benjamin, the “Eighth Thesis on the Philosophy of History.” It is a 1933 essay — very important timing — in which Benjamin, who was watching the consolidation of European fascism, began to say: don’t believe the language about “terror”; don’t be fooled into the propaganda that the need for “a state of emergency” is an aberration, a response to genuine dramatic threats. Don’t be taken in by it. “The tradition of the oppressed teaches that the “state of emergency” is a permanent historical tradition. The “state of emergency” exists permanently as a state of lawlessness — it is not the exception but the rule.” In other words, Benjamin saw clearly in 1933 that the German discourse of “Oh my God, things are really unstable, we need to suspend certain civil liberties for the sake of national security” was a hoax — a historical constant always used by elites and always for the same reasons.
Prof. Morton went on to trace this practice — of manipulating the words “terrorist” and propagandizing a need for states of emergency that lead to preventive detention, torture, suspension of constitutional rights and so on — to many places in the British colonial regime. He noted that “terrorist” was a term the British often applied to local populations that were fighting for — yes — freedom from oppressive British rule. He pointed out that the “Bengal Suppression of Terror Act” of the 1900s, for instance, was aimed at local freedom movements. (The word “Terrorist” was first coined in reference to the French Revolutionary state.)
Legal scholar Albert Venn Dicey pointed out in 1883 that martial law is “anomalous to the law in England” and a sign of a totalitarian state or a terrorist state. In spite of this ideology that Britain is a constitutional democracy, Morton said that British Colonial governments have all used emergency legislation to suppress colonial uprisings. They allowed the Colonial governors to develop torture, preventive detention, the maintenance of “order” by force, the denial of rights to subjects. The “state of emergency” operated “as a traveling concept for global counter-insurgencies, reiterated in different colonial authorities” around the world. Even more disturbingly fascinating, he made the case that British authorities would “practice” certain kinds of repression on Ireland between 1900 and 1922 — and then “export” these practices overseas. So in Ireland at that time, “subversive” material was criminalized in newspapers, and so on. The “state of emergency‘ in that period — for Ireland, not for Britain as a whole — “was the rule, and the application of the Constitution the exception.”
Morton went on to say that the “causative” emergencies for the “state of emergency” were often manufactured, for example in Malaya; that the ostensibly “dramatic character of these emergencies made them appear spontaneous rather than systemic”; and the strategy was the same for the imposition of Martial Law.
I’ve looked, as readers may know, at various fascist and totalitarian regimes, to get a handle of what the US was up to in terms of the erosion of our civil liberties. But I did not look at British colonialism in relation to the systemic development of the deployment of “state of emergency” policies to suspend US Constitutional rights, and I should make that connection now. It seems clear to me from this lecture and from other research that the architects of the suppression of our rights have probably studied British colonial rule as well as other repressive regimes.
Why would this historical source be especially useful for them? Because Britain, like America, as a putative constitutional democracy, can’t just say, “Okay, now we are a police state, and we are suspending the Constitution.” Britain in that period, like the United States today, needed to maintain its own ideology as a “free” nation, an exporter of human rights and democracy, around the world, to all these benighted brown peoples. So Britain needed to develop a discourse of rationale — hence the “state of emergency” discourse and the reliance on whipped-up “dramas” to justify a seeming exception to constitutional democracy that is actually the rule.
I think we should pay close attention to what Walter Benjamin tried to tell readers in 1933 — and really take in what Professors Morton and Boehmer are alerting us to today: “states of emergency” have a long historical record of being manipulated by elites, for repressive purposes that have nothing to do with the always “dramatic” rationales that are used to justify them; and British colonial rule was a laboratory of the very tactics and the same soundbites that we are seeing at home now in the United States. The past is prologue.
Obama Looking For Ways Around Congress On Gun Policy
First Posted: 03/15/11 04:33 PM Updated: 03/15/11 04:33 PM
With Reporting By Lucia Graves
WASHINGTON — Faced with a Congress hostile to even slight restrictions of Second Amendment rights, the Obama administration is exploring potential changes to gun laws that can be secured strictly through executive action, administration officials say.
PENN and TELLER on the SECOND AMENDMENT
The Department of Justice held the first in what is expected to be a series of meetings on Tuesday afternoon with a group of stakeholders in the ongoing gun-policy debates. Before the meeting, officials said part of the discussion was expected to center around the White House’s options for shaping policy on its own or through its adjoining agencies and departments — on issues ranging from beefing up background checks to encouraging better data-sharing.
Administration officials said talk of executive orders or agency action are among a host of options that President Barack Obama and his advisers are considering. “The purpose of these discussions is to be a productive exchange of good ideas from folks across the spectrum,” one official said. “We think that’s a good place to start.”
Earlier in the day, House Democrats joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to offer another possible starting point, announcing legislation that would make fundamental changes to the nation’s gun background check system. Sponsored by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), a longtime gun control advocate, the bill mirrors one introduced late last month by another New York Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer.
“Too often, any serious discussion about guns devolves into ideological arguments that have nothing to do with the real problem,” Bloomberg, a co-founder of the coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told reporters at a press event outside the Capitol. “Our coalition strongly believes in the Second Amendment. We also know from experience that we can keep guns away from dangerous people without imposing burdens on law-abiding gun owners.”
For gun control advocates, however, executive action remains a more promising — albeit more limited — vehicle for reform than Congress. On Monday, The Huffington Post first reported that the Justice Department was convening meetings with groups from across the ideological spectrum in an effort to chart potential policy changes to Second Amendment law.
The discussions were meant to build a broad coalition around the elements of reform Obama had outlined a day earlier in an op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star, including stronger state-to-state coordination, expedited background checks and greater enforcement of the laws already on the books, especially with regard to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
MYTH: GUN CONTROL REDUCES CRIME
But the coalition-building didn’t start off on a promising note. The National Rifle Association responded to the op-ed by arguing that Obama had missed the point “entirely” in ignoring lax law enforcement and shortcomings in the nation’s mental health system.
The NRA’s response crystallized what administration officials and gun control advocates have long known to be a major potential roadblock in any reform effort: a policy approach that gives off even the hint of restricting access to firearms will be met with forceful opposition by the gun lobby and its allies.
Even when Democrats attempted to limit the ability of outside interest groups to make anonymous campaign donations, they ultimately exempted the NRA for fear that the group would derail the entire enterprise. And so, the conversation has drifted towards executive action.
“We need tougher laws, but there’s a lot we can and should be doing to enforce the laws we have,” said Mark Glaze, the executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “Sometimes it’s a question of manpower and money, but in many cases it’s just a question of political will. We think the president knows that and is getting there.”
The extent to which Obama can change gun law without the hand of Congress is not, gun control activists say, wholly insignificant. Though they say they’d prefer longer-lasting, broader legislative responses to shootings like that which occurred in Tucson, Ariz., in early January, there are notable gaps that can be filled with presidential action.
GUN CONTROL LEADS TO HIGH CRIME RATES
With respect to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), a Clinton-era rule had prevented the military from reporting to the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, had been rejected as a recruit for failing a drug test. Obama could reverse that without Congress, Glaze and an administration official said.
As for other possible actions that can be taken without Congress, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has compiled a wishlist of sorts, suggesting that the national background-check system enforce the requirement that all federal agencies report individuals forbidden under federal law from purchasing guns; that the White House restructure regulations requiring that the FBI destroy firearm-purchase records after 90 days; that the FBI, DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives be more aggressive in pursuing federal prosecutions against those individuals who illegally attempted to buy firearms; and that the latter agency ramp up undercover investigations of sales at gun shows.
The Obama administration makes a new demand for records of Americans’ gun purchases.
by Chris W. Cox,
NRA-ILA Exec. Director
If you’re one of the nearly 71 million Americans who live in the four southwest border states, some of your gun purchases could soon be reported to the federal government. If you don’t like that—and no gun owner should—read on, because this may be our first big head-on gun control battle against the Obama administration.
The fight began with a bureaucratically worded “Emergency Notice of Information Collection Under Review,” published in the Dec. 17 “Federal Register”—the daily publication where all proposed federal rules make their debut. It announced that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives plans to require federal firearms licensees in the border states to begin reporting all transfers “of two or more rifles within any five consecutive business days with the following characteristics: (a) Semi automatic; (b) a caliber greater than .22; and (c) the ability to accept a detachable magazine.”
In other words, a dealer would have to tell the government every time a deer hunter in Sacramento or Amarillo finds a good deal on a pair of semi-auto .30-06s like the popular Remington 7400.
The BATFE estimates that nearly 8,500 dealers will receive those letters; that’s nearly one out of every seven firearm retailers in
the United States today …
Some might ask, “Aren’t multiple rifle sales already reported?” The answer is a definite “No.” For many years, Congress has required dealers to report multiple sales of handguns—and only of handguns. According to one of the basic rules for interpreting laws, when the legislature specifies one thing, it excludes everything else. (This is the same principle your parents applied when they said you could have only a cookie, even if there were also cupcakes and pies on the table.)
For months now, anti-gun activists, members of the media and federal bureaucrats have been urging the BATFE to ignore this principle.
As we’ve reported before (See “End Run,” Feb. 2011), the drumbeat began with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and its “Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal Guns.” That document was an agenda of 40 ways for the Obama administration to impose new restrictions on gun owners and the gun industry, without bothering to go to Congress.
The “Blueprint” urged the BATFE to “identify the long guns most linked to crime and require dealers to report multiple sales of such guns.” MAIG, of course, is falsely assuming that when a particular type of gun is frequently traced, that must mean the gun is frequently used in crime. That’s a lie heard nearly every day in the gun control debate, despite repeated warnings from the Congressional Research Service and the BATFE itself that tracing is designed to find the source of specific guns, not to collect statistics. (For more information, see “Traces of Truth,” Dec. 2010.)
The push for multiple sales reporting continued with a pair of reports by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General this year. First, a draft report in September noted that multiple sales reports on rifles would have been useful for investigations of supposed gun trafficking to Mexico. While the September draft made no specific recommendations, a final report issued in November urged the BATFE to require multiple sales reports on long guns. The Inspector General recommended that the BATFE “work with the Department [of Justice] to explore options for seeking a requirement for reporting multiple sales of long guns.” The bureau responded that it “concurs” in the recommendation “but notes that this may require a change to the Gun Control Act which is beyond ATF’s and the Department’s authority.”
But there’s a twist. According to the latest installment in the Washington Post’s months-long “Hidden Life of Guns” series, the BATFE itself had already recommended a reporting requirement last spring, months before the Inspector General’s recommendation. The policy, according to the Post, was held up by then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel because it would energize gun owners before the midterm elections.
If that’s true—and we certainly don’t always believe the Post—it was a cynical move by Emanuel, a longtime ally of the anti-gun groups. But it would definitely be consistent; after all, President Obama also waited until after the elections to nominate Andrew Traver, another official with long ties to gun-ban activists, as director of the BATFE.
All this maneuvering aside, how can the BATFE try to require something the Congress never authorized?
Showing why it’s now the greatest organized threat to our Second Amendment rights, Mayor Bloomberg’s MAIG pointed the way. MAIG’s “Blueprint” suggested that the new multiple sales reports could be required through “demand letters.” These are letters sent to dealers by the BATFE. According to the provision of the Gun Control Act that authorizes these letters, dealers must submit “all record information required to be kept [under the Gun Control Act] or such lesser record information as the Attorney General in such letter may specify.”
That sounds like an incredibly broad license for anything up to total gun registration based on dealers’ records. But Congress has passed many protections against gun registration, including the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act’s ban on new rules or regulations that would require dealers’ records “to be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States.”
So what does the law really allow? A quick look at history answers that question. The original demand letter provision was a regulation adopted in 1968, under the original Gun Control Act, and added to the U.S. Code in 1986. Back in 1968, Harold Serr, the director of the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (the precursor of today’s BATFE) wrote to U.S. Sen. Frank Church of Idaho that “under no circumstances does the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division intend to require licensed firearms dealers to submit all records of firearms transactions to a central location. This would be in effect gun registration and the Congress clearly showed its desires in this area when gun legislation was voted on.”
Instead, the demand letter provision was to be used for examining dealers’ records in the course of a criminal investigation, or for tracing guns—two activities that are authorized by other provisions today.
More recently, demand letters have been used for other limited purposes. For example, the BATFE uses this provision to compile annual statistical reports on how many firearms are made and exported by each gun manufacturer. And in 1994, when certain shotguns were reclassified as “destructive devices” under the National Firearms Act, the bureau used the provision to get contact information for buyers of those guns in order to inform them about NFA registration requirements.
More objectionable was the use of demand letters, beginning during the Clinton administration, to get certain dealers to report all used gun transactions for use in future traces. NRA strongly objected to that program and funded litigation against it. Unfortunately, the government won those cases, but even the court decisions stressed how limited the program was. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit put it, the demand letter statute “is not a limitless delegation of authority” and “cannot be construed in an open-ended fashion.”
The courts also stressed that the demand letters were only issued to dealers who had supposedly failed to respond quickly to trace requests, or who had high numbers of guns traced quickly to crimes. As flawed as those reasons were, the letters still only went to a few hundred dealers—less than 0.1 percent of the licensees in the United States at the time.
Compare that to the number of dealers slated to receive the new multiple sales letters. The BATFE estimates that nearly 8,500 dealers will receive those letters; that’s nearly one out of every seven firearm retailers in the United States today, including many who are hundreds of miles from the Mexican border. That’s obviously casting way too big of a net, and could lay the groundwork for even broader demands that would truly amount to a gun registration scheme.
That makes this fight a top priority for NRA. Right now, we’re filing comments with the Office of Management and Budget, asking them to deny the proposed “information collection.” But we’ve also begun planning our next move, which will be legislative proposals to limit the “demand letter” authority.
Fortunately, our allies in Congress are already rallying across party lines on this issue. For example, the entire Montana congressional delegation has already weighed in, with Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester calling the proposal “unnecessarily burdensome” and arguing that any further reporting requirement “must be done by Congress through the transparent legislative process.”
Likewise, Montana’s Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, joined by 35 House colleagues, including incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, blasted the “new, onerous requirements that would inevitably track and catalogue the purchases of law-abiding gun owners,” also denouncing the proposal as an “end run around Congress.”
NRA will make sure all of these arguments are heard on Capitol Hill—and in the courts, if necessary—as this fight goes on.