• Congress hears U.S. "failing" to confront radical Islam

    Witnesses at a high-profile congressional hearing on Islamic radicalization said Thursday that America is “failing” to confront the threat posed by homegrown extremism, as lawmakers for hours traded accusations over whether the inquiry unfairly singled out Muslims; the hearing, one of the most controversial in recent memory, featured congressmen, a California sheriff, a Muslim scholar, and witnesses whose relatives had been recruited by radicals; Representative Peter King (R-New York), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, vowed to press ahead with more hearings, telling reporters late Thursday that the next panel would probably focus on Islamic radicalization in the U.S. prison system

  • On bangs and whimpers

    Yesterday was the first day of the congressional hearings on Islamic radicalization in America; it is already clear that the hearings will not become important and memorable like the Army-McCarthy Hearings of the early 1950s, the Fulbright hearings of the late 1960s, or the Church Hearings of the mid-1970s; in today’s political climate, nothing can bring a conversation to an end more quickly than accusing a public figure of engaging in stereotyping ethnic or religious minorities, of ethnic profiling and scapegoating — whether or not such accusations have any merit; the Democrats on the committee went on the offensive, painting the hearings as illegitimate and making the hearings themselves the focus of attention and debate; the tone and body language of many of the Republicans on the committee showed that they grasped that this was a no-winner for them; yes, they denied charges by Democrats that this was a case of witch hunting and stereotyping, but they acted as if they were simply hoping to ride out the hearings without doing anything too disastrous

  • King blasts GOP for transportation security cuts

    Representative Peter King (R - New York), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, blasted the GOP’s plan to reduce the budget by $61 billion, citing cuts to critical anti-terror programs; the House plans to reduce spending on port security and transit facilities by $400 million, bringing total spending down to $200 million; local transit authorities say that losing federal funding would be detrimental as states and cities are struggling with their own budgets; the grants are designated for things like cameras, tunnel fortification, training, patrols, and canine teams at transport hubs and ports; proponents of the cuts believe that these programs are redundant, unnecessary, and lack sufficient oversight

  • Alabama fire departments receive more than $1.5 million in DHS grants

    The Lanier Volunteer Fire Department in Talladega County, Alabama just announced that it received a little over $100,000 from DHS through its assistance to firefighters grant program; the department’s chief Jerry Alfred said he plans to use the funds to purchase a rescue truck; several other local fire departments also received grants from DHS including the Sycamore Volunteer Fire Department which received $231,750 and the Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Department which got $185,250; DHS plans to award $1,564,732 to eighteen fire departments throughout Alabama

  • On kabuki, farces, subpoenas, and theocracy

    The United States is trying to persuade the UN Human Rights Council to kick Libya out (yes, Libya is a member of the council) and to order an investigation of the atrocities committed by the Gaddafi regime against anti-government protesters; trouble is, members of the council include such towering paragons of human rights as Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Burundi — and the council is controlled by a bloc of Islamic and African states, backed by China and Russia; to hope this UN body will be moved by the plight of the Libyan people is to expect too much; closer to home, Darrell Issa (R-California) promised that when he assumed the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he would launch a subpoena campaign against the Obama administration; the campaign has now been launched; in Kentucky, the state’s homeland security department requires the department’s executive director to publicize a “dependence on Almighty God” in agency training and educational materials; atheists argue in court that this would turn Kentucky into a theocracy

  • Bill would allow police to turn illegal immigrants over to members of Congress

    A new proposal from Texas state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst would allow law enforcement officials to drop off illegal immigrants at the offices of any U.S. senator or representative; the proposed bill only applies to illegal immigrants about to be released on bail or discharged after completing a sentence and does not detail what the U.S. senator or representative is supposed to do with them.

  • High-speed derailment

    Sophisticated high-speed commercial trains such as France’s TGV, Japan’s Bullet trains, and China’s Shanghai Maglev that travel up to 311 mph are leaving the United States in the dust; this week, President Obama proposed a 127 percent increase on public transit spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy despite Republican plans to reduce the $1.5 trillion deficit; Republican lawmakers, governors say the development of high-speed rail should left for the private market

  • PATRIOT Act extended by nine months

    In a move last Tuesday which surprised the Republican leadership in Congress, 26 Republicans — seven of them freshmen — voted against the extension of the PATRIOT Act, which expires 28 February; the measure was defeated when the Republican leadership attempted to force it through a fast-track procedure that required a two-thirds majority, but the vote — 277 for and 148 against — fell short; the House last night, in 275 to 144 vote under regular procedure, extended the Act by nine month; the extension includes special “roving” wiretaps, which allow law enforcement officials to use one search warrant to monitor a suspect’s calls, even if he or she skips from phone to phone; traditional search warrants only apply to a single telephone line; the Senate is yet to act on the bill

  • Freshman lawmakers receive terrorism briefing

    Last week new members of the U.S. House of Representatives were briefed on the current state of terrorism; their briefing warned that while al Qaeda had been disrupted it was still a dangerous organization; al Qaeda is increasingly turning to radicalization of American Muslims to carry out small scale attacks; the briefing also covered the delicate balance between expanded policing powers and civil liberties as Americans want security, yet are highly suspicious of the federal government; in moving forward the briefing urged lawmakers to candidly reassess costly security measures in light of growing fiscal concerns

  • Proposals to enhance lawmakers' security questioned

    Lawmakers have offered many new measures to protect members of Congress from attempts on their lives; some call for better protection of politicians by local law enforcement; Representative Peter King (R-New York) would make it illegal to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of a federal official; another proposal is to erect a blast shield around the gallery in the House of Representatives and the Senate; critics of these proposals say that at end of the day, none is going to deter a determined assassin bent on killing a public official

  • Lawmakers looking to cash-strapped local police for extra security

    For members of Congress worried about their safety in the wake of the Arizona mass shooting, relying on local law enforcement may not be an option as cutbacks hit cash-strapped police forces; Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Illinois) this week proposed additional congressional spending for security at district offices; Rep. Peter King (R-New York) proposed barring people from bringing a weapon within 1,000 feet of a government official; Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) suggested allowing lawmakers to carry weapons inside the Capitol; already, Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Heath Shuler (D-North Carolina) announced they are going to step up the frequency with which they carry concealed weapons to district events

  • Move to strengthen Capitol security in wake of Arizona shooting

    Representative Dan Burton (R-Indiana) intends to introduce legislation similar to a measure he presented in 2007 to enclose the House Chamber in a “transparent and substantial material” to prevent people from tossing explosives or shooting onto the floor; since the 1 March 1954 attack on Congress — four Puerto Rican nationalists entered the House visitors’ gallery and fired nineteen shots at members and staff during a vote — and several others involving firearms and explosives, the Capitol has strengthened its security apparatus; it now screens all visitors at an underground security checkpoint located in the Capitol Visitor Center. People who want to watch House and Senate floor proceedings from a visitors’ gallery have to go through an additional set of metal detectors before entering the chamber

  • Rep. Clyburn calls for increased spending on lawmakers' safety

    After the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Representative James Clyburn called for increases in spending to protect lawmakers; the House voted last week to reduce its operating budget by 5 percent; Congressional security officials are currently reviewing security measures and briefing members and their staffers on security

  • Shaken lawmakers weigh additional security measures

    Following the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), more than 800 participants — members of Congress, their spouses, and staffs — take part in a conference call Sunday; the FBI, House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood, and U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phil Morse detailed security measures lawmakers and their family members should take both in Washington, D.C. and in their home districts; another security briefing for lawmakers is scheduled for Wednesday; the last time a member of Congress was shot and killed was in 1978, when Representative Leo Ryan (D-California) tried to leave Jonestown, Guyana, with members of Jim Jones’s cult; six members of Congress have been murdered as well as two senators — Huey Long in 1935 and Robert Kennedy in 1968; five members of Congress were injured when Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House chamber on 21 March 1954

  • Suspected Arizona gunman passed FBI background check

    The alleged shooter of Representative Giffords and eighteen other people in Arizona purchased a firearm legally — and after passing an FBI background check — from Sportsman’s Warehouse’s Tucson store in November; Loughner did not present a concealed weapons permit so he was required to pass an FBI background check, which he did “immediately and without incident,” the company which owns the store says; a DHS memo ties Loughner to the extremist group American Renaissance, which DHS describes as “anti-government, anti-immigration, anti-ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti-Semitic”; the group leader says Loughner had no connection with his group