Attorney General defends The Patriot Act

On Tuesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller said the reason times are so different is because of measures taken to secure the nation. They strongly argued in favor of renewing all provisions of the act, saying it is integral to fighting the War on Terror and “crucial to national security.”

“Al Qaeda and other groups remain a grave threat to our country, and now is not the time for us to relinquish our tools in that fight,” Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He also asked Congress to expand the FBI’s administrative subpoena powers, which allow the bureau to obtain records without approval or a judge or grand jury.

One section of the law that Gonzales suggested might be ready for revision is that which allows federal agents, in the context of terrorism investigations, to seize items like business records, including those from libraries and bookstores. The section is called the “library provision” by its critics though it does not specifically mention tracking reading habits of Americans who frequent libraries or bookstores. The section of the law permits secret warrants for “books, records, papers, documents and other items” from businesses, hospitals and other organizations.

Gonzales told lawmakers Tuesday the provision has been used 35 times, but never to obtain library, bookstore, medical or gun sale records, only for drivers’ license, credit card, apartment lease and similar records like subscriber information on phone numbers picked up during taps and traces. He said he would support clarifying the law to make clear that the request only pertains to national security investigations and the recipient of a court order may consult with an attorney and challenge the order in court.

Also at issue are the so-called “sneak and peek” provisions of the law that allow federal agents to enter private homes secretly and search for evidence without immediately telling the resident they’ve been there. Before the Patriot Act was passed, those delayed-notice warrants were previously reserved for mafia activity and drug trafficking cases.

While getting the warrant means obtaining a court order and the provision is not actually expiring, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Gonzales to determine if the delayed-notice warrant has ever been used illegally.

While Gonzales defended the Patriot Act, saying it has helped secure more than 200 guilty pleas or convictions in terror-related crimes, two lawmakers, Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., were reintroducing legislation designed to curb some of the provisions discussed during the hearing.

It may surprise you folks to know I am not a big fan of the patriot act. I do not believe in giving more power to the government. I believe in empowering the people. The more power you give the government the more power ââÅwe the peopleââ? loose. It is our country, it is our government, it is our power, and we have to start thinking about it this way. Benjamin Franklin said: ââÅwe have given you a republic; now we will see if you can keep it.

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China’s Middle East Policies

From The Middle East Quarterly:

Chinese policy in the Middle East has grown more active over the past decade. With its overriding goal of securing oil and gas to fuel China’s economic growth, the Chinese government has actively cultivated its relations with the oil-rich Middle East, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. In their dogged pursuit of this goal, Chinese policymakers have been more than willing not only to undercut U.S. nonproliferation efforts but also to work closely with governments that export Islamismâââdespite Beijing’s concerns about China’s own increasingly assertive Uighur Muslim population. Rather than distance itself from these promoters of jihad, the Chinese government has gambled that embracing Iran and Saudi Arabia in lucrative oil and weapons deals will buy it some protection from their export of political Islam.

Qian’s open criticism of a central tenet of Bush administration policy reflects the intensity of Beijing’s concern with Washington’s Middle East strategy, which it sees both as advancing the encirclement of China and creating a norm of regime change against undemocratic states. If the Chinese government perceives that Washington is serious about making democratization the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy, Beijing will resist it even more intensely, seeing such a policy as an implicit challenge to the Chinese communist party’s legitimacy at home.

The second event came just days after Bush won reelection, when Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing flew to Tehran to conclude an oil and gas deal between China’s state-owned Sinopec and the Iranian oil ministry worth approximately $100 billion (US) over thirty years.

After the oil deal was signed, Li announced that China would refuse to refer the issue of Iran’s nuclear program to the Security Council. Li’s announcement signified that decades of Sino-Iranian cooperation was bearing fruit for both parties: China would get the oil and gas its economy desperately needs while Iran would finally win the political support of a reliable and weighty friend.

Beijing bet that an open challenge to U.S. policy would not result in any negative repercussionsâââand it won. The fact that the Chinese establishment considers its actions a victory should worry the Bush administration. If Beijing continues to view access to Middle Eastern oil as a zero-sum game and the Middle East as a playing field for great power competition, more direct confrontation between China and the United States will be not the exception but the rule.

The Chinese government’s Middle East policy is a winning gambit for Beijing. China can not only quench its thirst for oil but, at least in the short-term, also undercut external Islamist incitement aimed at its own Muslim population. By cultivating ties with Middle Eastern countries that have antagonistic relations with Washington, Beijing can undermine U.S. policy in the region. The more countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Syria have ballistic missile capability and weapons of mass destruction, the more difficult it becomes for Washington to intervene in the Middle East in support of U.S. goals or in defense of its allies.

I have often warned that China and Russia was not to be trusted. They have always put their needs and desires over the good of other countries. While it serves their governments purpose to be seen as an ally, they will appear to be an ally. When it no longer serves their purpose?

I encourage you to read the whole article; it is lengthy, but informative.

Iraq Decides

I just enjoy surfing the Iraqi Blogs. I got this tid bit off of Iraq The Model Blog.
The members of the National Assembly have finally reached an agreement on choosing a chairman for the Assembly, Mr. Hachim Al-Hasani from the “Iraqion” list that is lead by Yawir. Al-Hasani is an ex-member of the Islamic Party and currently occupying the position of the minister of industry.

The new chosen chief expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the other members for placing their trust in him and started his speech with a few words about the importance of national unity in the current phase.
Then he moved to another critical subject; administrative corruption and fighting it.

This being just a teaser I invite you to read more on the blog.

Government’s Report On Trade Barriers

The government’s 672-page report on trade barriers is designed to guide U.S. negotiators over the next year in their efforts to attack barriers seen as doing the most damage to American companies.

As usual, the report devoted the most coverage – 58 pages – to China. The report provides details of areas where the administration contends the Chinese are not living up to the market-opening promises they made to join the WTO in late 2001.

The report said China was failing to enforce its laws against the theft of American movies, computer software and other intellectual property.

A fact sheet accompanying the report said “epidemic levels” of counterfeiting and piracy in China were causing “serious economic harm to U.S. businesses in virtually every sector of the economy.”

The United States, which had a record trade deficit of $617 billion last year, posted an imbalance of $162 billion with China. That was the largest deficit ever with a single country.

American manufacturers say China’s most harmful trade practice is Beijing’s policy of linking its currency directly to the dollar. This practice has undervalued the yuan by as much as 40 percent, giving Chinese companies a tremendous competitive advantage, according to U.S. businesses.

The 25-nation European Union was singled out for 49 pages of criticism. The report devoted 45 pages to detailing Japan’s trade barriers to U.S. goods, services and investment.

In addition to the European Union, the other trading areas cited in the report were the Arab League and the Southern African Customs Union.

Read more at Forbes.com

AFL-CIO’s National Day Of Action

The AFL-CIO is organizing a “National Day of Action” on March 31 to protest President Bush’s Social Security reform plan.

President Bush has not brought out a ââÅplanââ? just a concept as a starting point for future discussion. He has stated over and over again, he’s open to all ideas, from people on all sides of the issue. But so far, all he’s hearing from his opponents is “no”. Still there is no discussion about solutions.

It is almost laughable to think the Unions have the nerve to even voice an opinion on the matter. Doesnââât anyone remember the Union scandals of the past; raiding pension funds!
The system cannot stay as it is without benefit cuts and big tax increases. But people will not approach this problem rationally. They want it, they are entitled to it and that is all there is to it. Some say donââât worry about it till it runs down. Sure then the taxes will be some one elseâââs problem. I want my Social Security the way it was promised when I was younger. Well it already is not what my generation was promised. The retirement age has gone up to 67 years of age. Now they are talking about raising it higher. I donââât know about you folks out there but I want to retire before I am 60!
Everyone is afraid of private accounts, but I say great! I wish we could opt out completely! Put all 12.4% into private investment accounts like they did in Texas. Then people could choose to retire at age 40 if they wanted. Or just work part time, or part year. We need to wake up as a nation and learn to take responsibility for our own lives

Freedom Of Information Act to Get Teeth

From the Associated Press:

Republican Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday there is broad support for a bill to create a panel to study the Federal Freedom of Information Act, but real reforms could run into trouble.

The bill, sponsored by Cornyn and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, would create a 16-member panel that would recommend ways to speed information requests. The bill passed committee March 17 and was sent to the Senate floor for debate.

Cornyn said his colleagues haven’t been so accepting of legislation that puts teeth in the 1966 act.

The measure would create an ombudsman to settle records disputes, which are currently resolved in court, with the Justice Department defending the agencies.

It would also require agencies to give people seeking documents a tracking number within 10 days and to set up telephone or Internet systems allowing them to learn the status and estimated completion date. Agencies that didn’t respond within 20 days would lose many of the exemptions to FOIA requests, and could be forced to pay attorney fees.

There are currently no penalties for agencies that fail to respond in 20 days.

Cornyn said even if the reform bill doesn’t get support, creating the advisory panel is a good place to start.

“This may sound like baby steps, and it is in many ways,” he said. “But I’ve found in Washington we may need to start with baby steps.”

Watch Group Decries Washington’s usurping States Rights

“Our members have raised the alarm” about the tendency of Washington to pre-empt state laws, said Susan Parnas Frederick, who heads the law and criminal justice committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“We obviously feel that there are times when national actions are necessary,” she said. But recently, she said, “everything comes down from the federal government whether we like it or not.”

Her bipartisan group has put out its first “Pre-emption Monitor” to warn state legislators about federal efforts to usurp their powers.

It mentions two of the Bush administration’s proudest accomplishments: the No Child Left Behind Act, which establishes national education testing standards, and the recent law that seeks to restrain lawsuit abuse by allowing class-action suits to be moved from state to federal courts.

In addition, there is the 2002 election law that imposed national standards on the states in such areas as registration and provisional balloting. A 2004 law created federal standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and personal identification cards.

The states’ rights issue gained prominence when Republicans, frustrated by the refusal of Florida state courts to reverse the decision to remove the feeding tube from the brain-damaged Schiavo, rushed through emergency legislation allowing the case to be heard by a federal court.

Lawmakers, aware that such an issue is traditionally left to the states, wrote the bill so that it applied only to the Schiavo case and did not affect the substantive rights of the states.

The 10th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution states that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

But that distinction was made hazy by a Supreme Court ruling in 1937.

The justice said the constitutional provision granting Congress control over interstate commerce also gave Congress the authority to legislate in matters that had been relegated to the states.

The Democrats have used that ruling over the decades to expand federal powers. One of the aims of the Republicans when they finally seized control of Congress in 1995 was to restore to the states their rightful powers.

“Republicans today are as guilty, almost, as the Democrats were over their long reign in power,” said Roger Pilon, director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, a group that advocates limited government and individual rights. “Now that they find themselves in power they are not at all reluctant to use government for the ends they favor.”

That noticeably has been the case on issues that matter to social conservatives. That includes the drive to pass a constitutional amendment and prevent state courts from recognizing gay marriages, although that is proper application of Federal power, since it is required that one State recognize another States marriage.

However the administration’s support for action against states that legalize medical marijuana, assisted suicide, national drivers license, no child left behind, National speed limit, etcetera is another matter entirely.

Big Brother is getting ââÅbiggerââ? under this administration; not smaller.