THE OTHER SHOE DROPS: Updates To Previous Posts
† Another Day, Another Dem Ethics Scandal (second item): Eric Wang, a political law attorney with expertise in government ethics laws, explains why Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) are about to have company in the CBC Hall of Shame:
Now come Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat, and Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Georgia Democrat, who have admitted to improperly doling out Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship funds to their relatives and a staffer's children. …
Although House rules do not directly regulate the CBC Foundation's spending and internal governance, they do regulate how it raises money. Because the CBC's scholarship funds could not have been awarded improperly without first having been raised, the House ethics committee ultimately may have jurisdiction over this matter.
Under the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, government officials, including members of Congress, generally may not solicit anything of value from any person seeking official action from, or whose interests may be substantially affected by, the official's agency or department. Both the Senate and House ethics committees have created a limited exception to allow members to solicit on behalf of charities, provided that the members do not benefit personally from the solicitations.
Applying these rules to the CBC Foundation scholarship, the conduct of the members at issue appears to be somewhat problematic. According to the foundation's most recent annual report, it has indeed solicited funds from entities with interests pending before Congress, such as Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, BP, United Parcel Service, FedEx, Toyota, AT&T, Verizon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, just to name a few. …
According to a House ethics spokesperson, the committee cannot publicly disclose whether it has given the CBC Foundation an exemption to solicit as an entity established or controlled by members. …
Scholarshipgate may seem like a blip on the radar. But to the extent certain members of Congress recently have railed against the ethics of student-loan lenders, Wall Street and oil companies, it is fair game to turn the ethics scrutiny on Congress itself.
† You Are What You (Can’t) Eat: Now NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is petitioning the United States Department of Agriculture for permission to prevent food stamps from being used to buy soda or other sugared drinks, The New York Times reports:
Public health experts greeted Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal cautiously. George Hacker, senior policy adviser for the health promotion project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said a more equitable approach might be to use educational campaigns to dissuade food-stamp users from buying sugared drinks.
“The world would be better, I think, if people limited their purchases of sugared beverages,” Mr. Hacker said. “However, there are a great many ethical reasons to consider why one would not want to stigmatize people on food stamps.”
The mayor requested a ban for two years to study whether it would have a positive impact on health and whether a permanent ban would be merited. …
In 2004, the Agriculture Department denied a request by Minnesota to prevent food-stamp recipients from buying junk food. The department said that the plan, which focused on candy and soda, among other foods, was based on questionable merits and would “perpetuate the myth” that food-stamp users made poor shopping decisions.
Congress debated but rejected restricting the purchase of sugared drinks with food stamps as part of a 2008 farm bill, Mr. Hacker said. But this year, the chairman of the House’s Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, Democrat of Minnesota, said the House should think about such a ban in its deliberations over the next farm bill.
The Stiletto is of two minds on this proposal. On the one hand, she opposes government intervention into the minutiae of people's lives, including which legal product they choose to buy to satisfy the biological imperative to eat and drink. On the other hand, taxpayer money should come with strings attached - in this case, to incentivize NYC’s 1.7 million food stamp recipients to earn enough money that they can get off the dole and exercise the power of the purse. She imagines a financially empowered former food stamp recipient at the checkout counter using her earnings to pay for all the things Bloomberg wants to ban and shouting, "Screw you, Bloomberg!"
† Media Irrelevancy – A Self-Inflicted Wound: The Austin American-Statesman headline informed readers that “Tuna sandwich robber gets 70 years.” But petty theft wasn’t what got the 41-year-old thrown in the slammer for what will likely be a life term, it was that he attacked a Whole Foods security officer with a knife and was convicted of aggravated robbery. So the headline was both misleading and innaccurate.
† Updates To Previous Posts (seventh item, Is Hasan A Crazy Terrorist, Or A Terrorist Crazy?): After Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan plotted jihad against his fellow soldier right under the noses of his superior officers at Fort Hood, a new Army regulation requires soldiers to report behavior that might be a sign of terrorist or extremist sympathies, reports The Washington Times:
Titled Threat Awareness and Reporting Program, the regulation directs the head of Army counterintelligence to set up a centralized database of such reports. It also requires soldiers to be trained about the dangers of accidentally revealing too much information online, on blogs or on social networking sites and specifies media leaks of secret data as one of the kinds of unauthorized disclosure soldiers must report. …
All Army personnel "should report … information regarding [Army] personnel who exhibit any of the behaviors that may be associated with a potential espionage or international terrorist threat and those associated with extremist activity," the new rules state. They add that anyone failing to report such behavior could be subject to administrative sanction or even court martial.
A chart of reportable behaviors includes "Expressing support for persons or organizations that promote or threaten the unlawful use of force or violence … to achieve political, ideological, or religious objectives."And "Soliciting advice, encouragement, finances, training, or other resources from a person who advocates the use of unlawful violence to undermine or disrupt U.S. military operations or foreign policy."
It might seem obvious that soldiers in a war against terrorism should report evidence of terrorist sympathies among their comrades, but the case of Maj. Hasan, who shouted "God is great" in Arabic before reportedly opening fire at a personnel center in Fort Hood, Texas, in November and killing 13 people, suggests otherwise.
† Updates To Previous Posts (eighth item, Why We Need Gitmo): In the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan barred the prosecution's star witness from testifying because investigators learned of his existence by using enhanced interrogation techniques on the defendant, terrorism suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. The judge’s ruling validated the fears of critics who insist that terror suspects who have been interrogated as war criminals could be successfully prosecuted only by military tribunals.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Sidiqi, a German citizen of Afghan descent questioned by American interrogators at the Bagram Air Field prison (AKA “the Afghan Gitmo”) divulged details of a plot to conduct coordinated attacks on tourists in European cities. “So far so good,” writes former U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey:
One captured terrorist in military custody since July - at a location that prevents him, at least for the moment, from hauling his captors into a U.S. court - discloses valuable intelligence that appears to have headed off, at least for the moment, an atrocity. …
How do we deal with the people planning simultaneous attacks on tourists - likely to be principally Americans - in Europe?
The government seems to present us only with the choice that we kill them with drones or give them Miranda warnings and access to a 24-karat justice system designed for conventional criminals. There are better ways, including but not limited to military commissions already provided by law but shunned by the administration, or other special- purpose tribunals that can be established by Congress.
Detaining terrorist conspirators for intelligence-gathering purposes - wholly apart from whatever they may be charged with planning or doing - does not appear to be an option for this administration, certainly not if they are apprehended in this country while seeking to detonate a bomb in an airplane over Detroit or in an SUV near Times Square. Those who joined the orgy of self-congratulation after this week's sentencing of Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad might, when they sober up, consider what we did not find out about who sent him and who else may be on the way - because Shahzad was valued more as a defendant than as an intelligence source.
† Updates To Previous Posts (fifth item, Garbage In, Garbage Out: Part II): The education documentary, "Waiting for Superman," has stirred up a hornet’s nest over teacher tenure that make it impossible to fire incompetent educators. As clips from the movie were being aired on news programs, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg learned that a newly tenured Bronx elementary school teacher had posted an item on the Huffington Post about her former life as a prostitute, but instead of being shown the door she has been assigned to an office job pending the outcome of an administrative hearing. Now Bloomberg wants to link tenure to test scores. At an “education summit” broadcast on NBC, he said principals shouldn’t grant tenure to a teacher unless his or her students have made two years of progress on state tests. But Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, countered that principals can already deny tenure "for any reason" and that teachers "would welcome an objective tenure-granting process based on agreed-upon standards." As long as those objective standards are not state test scores.
† Updates To Previous Posts (sixth item, NJ Taxpayers Must Choose Between Dollars And Dolphins): Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has threatened to halt work on a train tunnel connecting his state and Manhattan because the cost overruns have doubled the price tag and he says, “I simply cannot put the taxpayers of the State of New Jersey on what would be a never-ending hook," reports The Washington Post:
It started at $5 billion in 2005 and grew to $8.7 billion by 2008. Recently, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff made public statements that put the price tag between $9 billion and $10 billion. On Thursday, Christie (R) said his advisers put the costs at $11 billion to $14 billion.
"The bottom line is this, New Jersey has gone for too long and for too many decades ordering things that they can't pay for," Christie said at a news conference. …
A month ago, the governor ordered a 30-day halt to all work on the tunnel over concerns that it would go over budget. …
But as soon as he announced the work stoppage, lawmakers and transportation officials suggested that Christie had planned to scrap the project and to use the state's share to pay for the nearly broke Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for local road projects and rail repairs.
In a meeting with Christie, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood got the governor to agree to allow team comprised of members of his department and NJ Transit two-weeks to devise new financing terms or construction redesigns to overcome his objections.
† Updates To Previous Posts (last item, 10 Reasons Michelle Obama Should Be Proud – Really Proud – Of America): This latest installment in The Stiletto Blog’s ongoing series meant to help instill the necessary pride of country in Michelle Obama’s consciousness to enable her to serve as an unofficial ambassador focuses on Carlos Partida and two other construction workers who tackled a gunman who shot two students in the schoolyard of Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad, CA. Los Angeles Times reports:
Construction worker Carlos Partida said he saw the suspect firing his gun at the children. He said the gunman appeared to be reloading and trying to leave the scene when he jumped in his truck and rammed the man, knocking him down.
"My reaction was to get him. Get him away from the kids," he said. Partida said he and two other construction workers held the gunman down until police arrived.
The Associated Press reports that the suspect is thought to be a transient who lives in the area and may be mentally ill.
The two injured children, ages 6 and 7, were airlifted to Rady Children's Hospital. Witnesses told The Times that one of them waved before boarding the aircraft.