June 30th, 2012
Conservative Refocus Notes: This story leaves out one particular dimension which could prove operative, that being the White House/ State Dept. Reaction to militant Somalian Islamists threatening Kenya, although the details, in this regard, are sketchy, at present.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Kenya announced his resignation on Friday ahead of the publication of a U.S. government audit that will be critical of his leadership of the most important embassy in East Africa.
A former two-star Air Force general, Ambassador Scott Gration appears to have been forced to step down by how critical the audit will be.
Gration said he was resigning because of differences in priorities between him and Washington.
State Department officials said an internal audit of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi to be released next month will be highly critical of Gration’s leadership and management of the embassy, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the audit is still being prepared and is confidential.
Gration resigned after seeing a draft of the report, the officials said.
Three U.S. Embassy employees told The Associated Press that Gration led the embassy using a “my way or the highway” military leadership style that didn’t translate well in the civilian embassy world. The employees asked not to be identified, fearing retribution.
The U.S. Embassy statement announcing Gration’s departure laid bare the disagreements the former military leader had with his civilian bosses at the State Department and other U.S. agencies. Gration — who spent time as a child in Kenya and spoke the local language — said being ambassador to Kenya was “a dream job.”
“It has been a great honor and a profound privilege to be a part of the U.S. State Department team for the past three years and to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and as the CEO of Team Kenya since May of 2011,” Gration said.
“However, differences with Washington regarding my leadership style and certain priorities lead me to believe that it’s now time to leave.”
Kenya is East Africa’s largest economy and has strong ties with the U.S. The two countries cooperate on military affairs and have a shared interest in containing militant threats from Somalia.
Gration spent his childhood as the son of missionary parents in Congo and Kenya, and speaks the dominant local language, Swahili. He served in the Air Force as an F-16 fighter pilot instructor, and spent two years in Kenya on assignment with the Kenya Air Force.
Gration was a national security adviser to Obama’s first presidential campaign and served as a special assistant to the president. Before being named ambassador to Kenya, he was Obama’s special envoy to Sudan from March 2009 to April 2011.
The resignation announcement Friday appeared to show a deep love for Kenya by Gration and his wife, Judy. Gration said the assignment was the perfect opportunity “to use my deep-rooted knowledge of Kenya, its people, its language, and its culture, and my diplomatic, development, security, and humanitarian experience.”
He added that “as we depart, we will deeply miss Kenya, the Kenyan people, our partners in the diplomatic corps, and our colleagues in the U.S. Mission. Our hearts will remain here with you and with the true friendships that will endure until death.”
Gration’s last day as ambassador will be July 28, just over 15 months after his swearing in. It is likely the post would be filled by a charge d’affaires until a new ambassador is named after November’s U.S. presidential election.
Associated Press reporter Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.
June 30th, 2012
CR Notes: Yep, the Pinheaded Pelosi claps giddily while Boehner looks ready to burst into tears at any moment.
That's pretty much it.....
By Claudine Zap
This photo speaks louder than words.
The snap of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seemed to say it all, about the emotions surrounding the Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Obama's health care law--even though the photo was taken the day before and had nothing to do with the health care news.
The quirky picture was first surfaced by the Atlantic's Molly Ball, who tweeted it on Thursday afternoon, the day after it was snapped.
The photo quickly caught the attention of the Web. The Washington Post even held a caption contest.
The image, taken on Wednesday by a sharp-eyed Associated Press photographer at an event honoring members of the Montford Point Marines, seemed to express the partisan mood of the country.
Pelosi looks joyful; Boehner looks like a child who has had his toys taken away from him. Or maybe just a man sentenced to eating a lot of broccoli.
Comments like these on the photo were typical. Wrote @comancheblood: "… boehner about to cry." @SovernNation added, "Way more than 1000 words! Sums up #SCOTUS reax perfectly."
More coverage from The Sideshow
June 30th, 2012
Conservative Refocus Notes: One day after the US Constitution was both prostituted and adulterated, a rarely seen storm type, for the east coast, pounds the US Capitol?
Having followed meterology closely for many years, I had to ask my weather expert son "what in the world is a derecho?" I failed to ask him if he knew what it was prior to this particular event.....
Here is what Wiki says about derechos:
A derecho (Spanish: derecho "straight", pronounced [de̞ˈɾe̞tʃo̞]), is a widespread and long-lived, violent convectively induced straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms in the form of a squall line usually taking the form of a bow echo.
Derechos blow in the direction of movement of their associated storms, similar to a gust front, except that the wind is sustained and generally increases in strength behind the "gust" front. A warm weather phenomenon, derechos occur mostly in summer, especially June and July in the Northern Hemisphere. They can occur at any time of the year and occur as frequently at night as in the daylight hours.
WASHINGTON -- A fast-moving, aggressive thunderstorm system known as a derecho barreled through the nation's capital Friday evening causing wind damage and extensive power outages throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Electricity was knocked out to more than 1 million customers who face the prospect of several days without power in a middle of a heat wave, according to WRC-TV/NBC4.
According to the National Weather Service, one person was killed in Springfield, Va., when a tree fell on a car. A second person was killed in Springfield when a tree hit a house, according to WRC-TV.
The NWS placed much of Virginia, the District of Columbia and portions of Maryland under a severe thunderstorm watch on Friday evening. As the storm pushed from Ohio and through West Virginia and into Maryland and Virginia, numerous severe thunderstorm warnings were issued for impacted counties.
The storm cleared the D.C. region by 11:30 p.m. as it headed east across Chesapeake Bay to Maryland's Eastern Shore.
According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, a derecho "is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. Although a derecho can produce destruction similar to that of tornadoes, the damage typically is directed in one direction along a relatively straight swath."
WRC-TV reported during its 11 p.m. newscast that winds upwards of 70 mph were reported in different parts of the D.C. area. The television station reported that the storm knocked out power to more than 1 million customers across the region.
A Pepco representative told WRC-TV that in terms of power restoration, the storm may be "multi-day" event. High temperatures on Saturday are expected to rise to about 100 degrees.
Seventeen Metro stations experienced isolated power outages and third-rail electricity was knocked out on the Red Line between the Shady Grove and Grosvernor-Strathmore stations in Maryland's Montgomery County. The transit agency reported some trees down on parts of the Orange Line in Virginia's Fairfax County and the Blue Line in Maryland's Prince George's County. Bus service was experiencing major delays as well.
As the derecho moved through Ohio earlier on Friday, it hit Columbus and other cities with hurricane-force winds.
As WJLA-TV/ABC7 reports:
The biggest threat with these storms will be damaging wind gusts and frequent lightning after today's record heat. Keep in mind, there is a lot of heat energy in the atmosphere after record breaking temperatures today.
The D.C. region experienced record-breaking heat on Friday afternoon, with temperatures crossing the century mark in numerous places.
Last week Friday, severe evening storms plowed through the D.C. area, causing considerable damage in Bladensburg, Md., where straight-line winds associated with a microburst ripped roofs off houses and apartment buildings and knocked trees and power lines to the ground.
This is a developing story ...
June 30th, 2012
Supporters of the healthcare reform act upheld by the Supreme Court last week should stop celebrating and take a deep breath. Nestled within the multiple opinions issued by the justices are some disquieting hints that the high court's hostility toward government control over corporate power hasn't changed.
To put it bluntly: The court's four conservative horsemen are still in the saddle.
The original Four Horsemen were a conservative bloc that worked to overturn a string of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives in the 1930s. They held firm against expansive interpretations of the Constitution's commerce clause that would give government the tools to address modern crises, such as the Great Depression.
The clause, which awards Congress exclusive power over interstate commerce, was at the heart of the arguments in court over the healthcare reform act, particularly the act's mandate that individuals and families purchase insurance coverage or pay a tax-based penalty instead.
Among the issues was whether people who did not carry health insurance were participating in interstate commerce in a way that brought them within the clause's authority. The reform law's opponents argued that "inaction" — the failure to buy insurance — was by definition not commerce. Supporters responded that everyone in America participates in the interstate commercial market for healthcare, because sooner or later everyone will need treatment; those who don't have insurance are simply making a choice about how, when or whether to pay for it that can be properly regulated by congressional action.
Four present-day conservative horsemen — Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas — produced a joint dissent to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s majority opinion effectively upholding the mandate. Their dissent accepted the "inaction" argument, but also was shot through with what sounded like complaints about being forced to live in a modern world in which the definition of "commerce" is constantly expanded.
They wrote: "We now have sizable federal departments devoted to subjects not mentioned [by the Constitution] among Congress' enumerated powers, and only marginally related to commerce: the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development."
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts showed himself to be fully as hidebound as they in his interpretation of the commerce clause. He found that the individual mandate would be unconstitutional if it were based on the commerce clause alone. But by ruling that it was a permissible offshoot of Congress' taxing authority, he settled on a finesse that also dates from the 1930s. Back then, liberal Justices Louis Brandeis and Harlan Fiske Stone quietly advised New Dealers that the best way to inoculate the Social Security bill from attack by conservatives on the high court was by casting it as a tax measure. Their reasoning, followed by Roberts, was that the federal government's taxing power is virtually unlimited.
It was left to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a separate opinion on the healthcare act joined in whole or part by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen G. Breyer, to identify the danger to congressional power to right wrongs implicit in Roberts' views. His "crabbed reading of the commerce clause," she wrote, "harks back to the era in which the court routinely thwarted Congress' efforts to regulate the national economy in the interest of those who labor to sustain it."
Lest anyone mistake her point, she cited a New Deal-era case in which the court threw out a railroad workers' retirement measure on the grounds that any law applying to "the social welfare of the worker [is] ... remote from any regulation of commerce as such."
The intransigence of the original Four Horsemen drove FDR and other progressives to distraction. "We have been relegated to the horse-and-buggy definition of interstate commerce," he fumed after an especially irksome decision.
By 1937, especially after being challenged by FDR's ill-fated court-packing scheme that year, the Supreme Court had developed a more modern view of commerce. Since then, Ginsburg observed, the court "has recognized Congress' large authority to set the nation's course in the economic and social welfare realm."
Is that authority again in question? Roberts in his opinion made no pretense that he actually favored the healthcare reform act or even agreed with its goals, but made his ruling on narrowly legalistic grounds. "We do not consider whether the act embodies sound policies," he wrote. "Those decisions are entrusted to our nation's elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."
Little in last week's ruling suggests that the court is inclined to stray from a path that has led it to enhance the power of big business and big money to get their way, arguably at the expense of the citizenry in general — the 99%, to use the formulation of the Occupy movement.
This course was established by the Roberts court's egregious 2010 Citizens United decision, which invalidated limits on corporate participation in elections. Indeed, days before the healthcare ruling, the court summarily overturned a Montana ban on corporate political donations, thus signalizing that the trend unleashed by Citizens United applied to state and local elections as well as federal.
The four-judge minority in the healthcare case — traditionally the heart of a five-judge conservative majority when joined by Roberts — built their dissent around fears that if the individual mandate in health insurance stood, there would be no limit on federal authority to pursue social goals, however they might be defined. The risible broccoli analogy raised during oral arguments in the case in March made a prominent return to the stage — "the failure of some to eat broccoli may be found to deprive them of a newly discovered cancer-fighting chemical," in which case moving against the inactivity of not eating broccoli would come within the government's "unenumerated problem-solving powers," the dissent posited.
To go from a law designed to extend healthcare to 30 million uninsured people to a fantasy in which the government shoves vegetables down its citizens' throats is to envision a world in which the government in fact has no power, but private enterprise has free rein. In her opinion, Ginsburg contemplated this "outlandish" argument, which Roberts mentioned approvingly, with open suspicion. Mischievously, she enlisted conservative icon Robert Bork as a counterfoil, quoting him as writing, "Judges and lawyers live on the slippery slope of argument; they are not supposed to ski it to the bottom."
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Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at email@example.com, read past columns at latimes.com/hiltzik, check out facebook.com/hiltzik and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.
June 30th, 2012
Roll Call Staff
In the midst of a fiery floor debate over contempt proceedings for Attorney General Eric Holder, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) quietly dropped a bombshell letter into the Congressional Record.
The May 24 letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member on the panel, quotes from and describes in detail a secret wiretap application that has become a point of debate in the GOP’s “Fast and Furious” gun-walking probe.
The wiretap applications are under court seal, and releasing such information to the public would ordinarily be illegal. But Issa appears to be protected by the Speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution, which offers immunity for Congressional speech, especially on a chamber’s floor.
According to the letter, the wiretap applications contained a startling amount of detail about the operation, which would have tipped off anyone who read them closely about what tactics were being used.
Holder and Cummings have both maintained that the wiretap applications did not contain such details and that the applications were reviewed narrowly for probable cause, not for whether any investigatory tactics contained followed Justice Department policy.
The wiretap applications were signed by senior DOJ officials in the department’s criminal division, including Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco and another official who is now deceased.
In Fast and Furious, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault guns bought by “straw purchasers” to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.
The tactic, which was intended to allow agents to track criminal networks by finding the guns at crime scenes, was condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder scene.
Straw purchasers are individuals who buy guns on behalf of criminals, obscuring who is buying the weapons.
While Issa has since said he has obtained a number of wiretap applications, the letter only refers to one, from March 15, 2010. The full application is not included in what Issa entered into the Congressional Record, and names are obscured in Issa’s letter.
In the application, ATF agents included transcripts from a wiretap intercept from a previous Drug Enforcement Administration investigation that demonstrated the suspects were part of a gun-smuggling ring.
“The wiretap affidavit details that agents were well aware that large sums of money were being used to purchase a large number of firearms, many of which were flowing across the border,” the letter says.
The application included details such as how many guns specific suspects had purchased via straw purchasers and how many of those guns had been recovered in Mexico.
It also described how ATF officials watched guns bought by suspected straw purchasers but then ended their surveillance without interdicting the guns.
In at least one instance, the guns were recovered at a police stop at the U.S.-Mexico border the next day.
The application included financial details for four suspected straw purchasers showing they had purchased $373,000 worth of guns in cash but reported almost no income for the previous year, the letter says.
“Although ATF was aware of these facts, no one was arrested, and ATF failed to even approach the straw purchasers. Upon learning these details through its review of this wiretap affidavit, senior Justice Department officials had a duty to stop this operation. Further, failure to do so was a violation of Justice Department policy,” the letter says.
Holder declined to discuss the contents of the applications at a House Judiciary Committee hearing June 7 but said the applications were narrowly reviewed for whether there was probable cause to obtain a wiretap application.
Thousands of wiretap applications are reviewed each year by the DOJ’s criminal division. The applications are designed to obtain approval, so they tend to focus on the most suspicious information available.
A line attorney first creates a summary of the application, which is then usually reviewed by a deputy to Lanny Breuer, the head of the division, on his behalf. It is then reviewed and approved or denied by a judge.
Cummings has sided with the DOJ in the debate over the secret applications, but the full substance of his argument is unknown.
A June 5 letter from Cummings responding to Issa’s May 24 letter said Issa “omits the critical fact that [redacted].” The entire first section of the letter’s body is likewise blacked out.
"Sadly, it looks like Mr. Issa is continuing his string of desperate and unsubstantiated claims, while hiding key information from the very same documents," a Democratic committee staffer said. "His actions demonstrate a lack of concern for the facts, as well as a reckless disregard for our nation’s courts and federal prosecutors who are trying to bring criminals to justice.
We’re not going to stoop to his level. Obviously, we are going to honor the court’s seal and the prosecutors’ requests. But if Mr. Issa won’t tell you what he is hiding from the wiretaps, you should ask him why."