By Ronald Kessler | Tuesday, 24 August 2021 08:07 AM
Defending his decision to hand Afghanistan over to the Taliban, President Biden reassured the nation that the U.S. will have an “over-the-horizon capability” to combat any terror threats.
As it happens, the “over-the-horizon” concoction was first announced by the Pentagon on July 6 when the U.S. still expected the Afghan government to remain in place. But either way, Biden’s claim that military capability outside of the country will somehow protect us from terrorist plots hatched in Afghanistan is laughable.
While the National Security Agency can still intercept Taliban communications, the terrorist group is too smart to communicate terror plots by phone. The only way to uncover these plots is by infiltrating Taliban cells and other terrorist groups that are now flocking to Afghanistan.
That is the job of the CIA, which runs spies out of the embassy and dispatches so-called illegals to try to pick up intelligence about impending plots.
But now the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan is gone, and running illegals as spies who have no diplomatic immunity in a country controlled by ruthless killers is far too dangerous. Because Afghanistan is now denied territory unlike any other area of the world, the CIA will not be able to penetrate it.
On top of his prevarication about an over-the-horizon capability, Biden had the temerity to claim that al-Qaeda is “gone” from Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban have always worked hand-in-glove with al-Qaeda.
As Biden spoke, the Taliban had already freed thousands of al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters in jailbreaks. They quickly seized weapons, drones, and aircraft paid for by the U.S. and left behind by the defeated Afghan army.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is wanted by the FBI for his alleged role in the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, had already returned triumphantly to the country.
Haqqani and his terrorist network are closely allied with al-Qaeda and have a reputation for frequently using suicide bombers to carry out assaults on military installations and embassies.
Even as Biden spoke, the Taliban had placed senior leaders of Haqqani’s network in charge of security in Kabul. And the U.S. is going to uncover terrorist plots by Haqqani, who has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, with “over-the horizon capability?”
After 9/11, the FBI transformed itself into an agency that focuses first on stopping foreign terrorist plots and second on prosecutions. Arthur M. “Art” Cummings II, who headed counterterrorism investigations as the FBI’s executive assistant director, told agents that locking up terrorist suspects could actually put this country at risk.
Instead of bringing a prosecution, the primary goal should be gathering intelligence to penetrate terrorist organizations and prevent future plots.
The new approach has been remarkably successful. With the help of tips from NSA and the CIA, the FBI has rolled up plots to the point where there has not been a successful foreign terrorist attack since 9/11.
But now the FBI will face an onslaught of plots from Afghanistan, which Biden has allowed to become a safe haven for terrorists financed by the entire country, all bent on undertaking suicide missions against the U.S. far more devastating than we saw on 9/11.
Biden sought to minimize his withdrawal from Afghanistan by saying terrorists now operate throughout the world.
But in most of the rest of the world, law enforcement and security forces try to roll up terrorist plots, and the CIA is able to tip the FBI to terrorist planning. Aside from Afghanistan, even hostile governments do not want to be responsible for a direct hit on the U.S.
For my book “The Secrets of the FBI,” Dr. Vahid Majidi, an assistant FBI director who was the chief of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, told me that when American forces invaded Afghanistan after 9/11, they found that al-Qaeda was working on what Majidi called a “nascent” weapons of mass destruction effort involving chemical and biological weapons.
This was in line with Osama bin Laden’s dictum that al-Qaeda should develop and use weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
One attack using biological agents brought in, for example, through our open southern border could wipe out millions of Americans.
Because of Biden’s irresponsibility in ceding Afghanistan to the Taliban, we will be unable to uncover WMD plots against America as they are hatched. If Biden lied about an al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, his biggest lie was to suggest that we could uncover and neutralize terrorist plots in Afghanistan from afar.
How could anyone--much less the president--be so irresponsible and place our country at grave risk?
Consider that Biden's Secret Service agents told me for my book "The First Family Detail" that to burnish his image as regular Joe when he was vice president, Biden ordered the military aide with the nuclear football to remain at least a mile behind his motorcade when touring around Wilmington.
If President Obama had been taken out, there would have been no time even in normal traffic for the military aide with the nuclear football to catch up with Biden in time to order a counterstrike to save the U.S. from complete annihilation in a nuclear attack.
Such unthinkable irresponsibility helps explain Biden's dereliction of duty in Afghanistan, placing our lives in jeopardy for years to come.
Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Secrets of the FBI” and “The CIA at War.”
Border Patrol agents detained 834 unaccompanied migrant children at the U.S.–Mexico border on Wednesday, according to data released by the Department of Health and Human Services.
That number is the highest since the Biden administration began reporting daily total apprehensions of migrant children earlier this year.
The number of children in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection rose to 2,784 on Wednesday. Unaccompanied children are typically held in CBP facilities before being transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees care for unaccompanied minors. There are currently 14,523 children in HHS facilities.
The release comes after the Department of Homeland Security estimated that 210,000 migrants crossed the southern border in July, in court documents filed on August 2. That number includes an estimated 19,000 unaccompanied minors for the month of July, in what would be the highest monthly total since the year 2000.
The Biden administration has struggled to process hundreds of thousands of migrants who have illegally crossed into the U.S. in recent months. Border agents encountered 188,829 migrants in June, the highest monthly total in a decade, along with 180,641 migrants in May, 178,850 in April, and 173,265 in March.
On Monday the administration renewed a Title 42 policy allowing border agents to expel migrants directly back into Mexico without a court hearing, citing the risk of coronavirus spread. However, unaccompanied minors are exempt from that policy.
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND ADDITIONAL HELPFUL ARTICLES
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is processing airlifted Afghan refugees in locations like Germany, Bahrain and Qatar before sending them to the Washington D.C.-area Dulles International airport, using biometrics when possible to identify those without official travel papers, according to internal memos obtained by Just the News.
The memos acknowledge all refugees are being screened for COVID-19 after they arrive in the United States, and some may be arriving without their identities ascertained.
"Some undocumented non-citizens who arrive in the United States will require additional processing, which is currently being finalized," a memo sent Friday to CPB staff stated. "DOS expects a strong possibility for the numbers of undocumented subjects to increase as the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate."
The memos show about 40 CPB officers have bene sent to Qatar, 31 to Germany and 31 to Bahrain to handle initial screenings offshore, and that as of Friday "personnel overseas have already screened over 850 passengers."
"As of today, all passengers are being processed through Washington Dulles International Airport and are COVID screened by the CDC or Virginia Health at the airport," the memo also stated.
State Department officials acknowledged Thursday that Afghans aren’t being screen for COVID before departing their chaotic, Taliban-controlled country on U.S. military transport aircraft.
One senior immigration official told Just the News that CPB officers on the frontlines are aware of the challenges of screening Afghan refugees and that biometrics will help identify only a certain number.
Catching those with terrorist sympathies or training is the highest priority, the official said.
"Most are leaving Afghanistan in a hurry, without travel papers, passports or birth certificates," the official explained. "We are flying blind in a proverbial rainstorm with lots of heavy fog. We don’t know at first blush if someone is the seventh-cousin of bin Laden or a Good Samaritan. It’s going to be tedious work.”
The official said one method of stopping dangerous individuals will be CPB agents checking a Defense Department database for anyone whose fingerprints or DNA were found on known terrorist bombs, bomb-making materials or Improvised Explosive Devices.
A memo sent earlier this week asked the agents to volunteer for duty, warning the work of processing Afghan refugees will be long and painstaking and that the duty carried no special promotions opportunities.
"Eligible candidates must be familiar with CBP vetting systems and mobile applications for arriving passengers; in possession of an official passport; are requested but not required to speak the Dari, Pashtu, and Arabic languages; and must be available to deploy within 2-3 days of selection,” the memo stated.
"Officers are expected to be able to perform all assigned duties and may be required to work irregular shifts up to 7 days per week, holidays and weekends, and possible alternative work schedules,” the memo also stated. "Duty assignments and work location will be determined upon arrival in country."
The memo Friday stated that CPB had set up a command center for the refugee operation – dubbed Operation Allies Refuge – and that the center is being run by Port Director Dylan Defrancisci.
The memos also made glancing reference to the impact of the Biden administration’s bungled exit strategy, calling it a "rapidly unfolding and sobering" moment in Afghanistan that could be particularly disturbing to veterans who served in the war."
"We know the footage in Afghanistan is unsettling and may stir up mixed emotions, especially for our service members," one memo stated.
Officials offered help ranging from chaplains to "a safe space to talk or share your concerns."
Check on Afghanistan war veterans and give them time to mourn and reflect | Opinion
As a veteran of the Afghanistan war who deployed three times, my request is that we pause before we anxiously dive into the partisan crossfire.
MIKE KRAUSE | GUEST COLUMNIST | 9:43 am CDT August 17, 2021
Mike Krause deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as a member of the 101st Airborne Division and subsequently completed two additional deployments to Iraq.
The most awe-inspiring night sky I have ever seen was in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It was April of 2002, and as I sat on the blacked-out tarmac and stared upward, I saw the stars as if for the first time. There was no light pollution, no smog. Just a carpet of twinkling lights laid out from one end of the horizon to the other.
I was one of what was considered the lucky few to “get” to deploy to the region. The non-deploying soldiers at Fort Campbell looked at our desert uniforms with envy, wishing they had the chance to do what we were getting to do: something, anything, after the 9/11 attacks.
The military dubbed our campaign "Operation Enduring Freedom," a soaring title that matched how we felt as we adorned our gear with FDNY patches and focused our minds on getting the terrorists that killed thousands of Americans the previous fall.
What followed, like most military experiences, was equal parts boredom and excitement, with most of our days spent in a neighboring country at a spartan airfield. My platoon was proud of the supporting role we played, and it felt like we had done our own small part for America’s "Good War."
But whatever scenario we might have imagined for the future of Afghanistan at that time, I can assure you none of us would have dared envision the nightmare currently unfolding.
Now is not the time for blame; keep the focus on our troops
I wish I could offer nuanced foreign policy observations or some insight that makes this all seem a little better. But I can’t. Right now, I am not sure anyone can. So instead, I write to make two requests.
First, I’d like to ask those inflaming the political arguments inherent in a crisis of this gravity to pause for a moment. On one side of the aisle, people are rubbing their hands together excitedly, anxious to pin this disaster on the current president.
On the other side of the aisle, there is great eagerness to prove how the previous president’s actions led to this situation.
My request is that we pause before we anxiously dive into the partisan crossfire. Let’s give our country, and the veterans and family members who have sacrificed so much, some time to mourn and reflect, and most importantly, catalyze positive action for the brave Afghans that assisted our country and are now in grave danger.
I think this more caring and respectful approach, rather than jumping immediately into the vitriol of Twitter or the talking heads on cable and talk radio, is the most appropriate balm we could apply to our national wounds.
We will have decades to analyze these events, and rest assured, the demagogues will have ample time to sew their seeds of division. For now, I hope we will be Americans together, if only for a moment.
We must look after the mental health of our veterans
The second, and most important, request is to my fellow veterans. Our generation of veterans has been in the throes of a significant mental health battle for years, and a heartbreaking suicide toll makes this point in the most tragic way.
Literally every Iraq or Afghanistan veteran I know has lost a buddy to suicide. We should be clear-eyed that we are in a high-risk time for veterans that may be struggling.
So, my plea to the men and women that have worn the uniform and may find themselves in distress is simply to reach out.
I will fully admit how hard some of the sights from Kabul have been for me to process, and the only thing that helped was the opportunity to vent and commiserate with others that have served.
Perhaps it’s as simple as calling a member of your platoon, maybe it’s reaching out to the Department of Veterans Affairs to talk to someone or calling the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).
Whatever the approach, the immediate imperative is that veterans don’t suffer through this time in silence. We have leaned on each other before, in foxholes and in Humvees on IED laden roads.
It’s in our DNA as soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to take care of the troops beside us, and I hope the next few weeks, painful as they may be, are a time when we lean in together yet again.
FOX 17 News Investigates: Are your COVID-19 vaccine records private on TDH's website?
by Stacy Case Tuesday, August 17th 2021
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — You may talk openly with your friends about your Covid-19 vaccination status, but would you want just anybody having access to your private medical information?
FOX 17 News uncovers a potential security hole on the Tennessee Department of Health's website that you'll probably agree needs to be plugged pronto.
When AJ Depriest hopped on the Tennessee Department of Health website, the Wilson County woman says she couldn’t believe her eyes, “I was shocked. I was very disturbed by this.”
A web portal, designed to make it easy to get your private vaccination records also makes it pretty easy for anyone else to get them too. Depriest adds, “Somebody can sit there and literally access the private immunization records for anyone they want as many as they want.”
Depriest at first didn’t believe it could be so easy explaining how she discovered this potential vulnerability, “I got an email from a woman I know who works for one of the county health departments and all she said was, people are using this to access private immunization records.”
With permission from three of her family members, Depriest tested the vulnerability of the vaccination records site, accessing immunization records for all three by putting “self” in the relationship to the requestee section and putting in her own email address.
“All you need is the person's first and last name, you need an address and a phone number and you can even put in your own phone number, male or female, date of birth and these are things you can find on anybody anywhere,” says Depriest.
The Tennessee Department of Health doesn’t require any other verifying identification beyond the basics. “I was shocked, utterly shocked that the state of Tennessee would have such lax security over there medical records in the state health department. Amateur hour at the Apollo. It feels like clown world.”
In a department with a $685 million budget, Depriest wants to know why this is happening saying, “You would think they'd be able to afford a good cyber security system or a system to maintain medical records.”
FOX 17 News' Stacy Case asked Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey about the potential breach of privacy, “Are there any plans to require more secure verification like a driver's license number or social security?” Dr. Piercey answers in part, “Patient privacy is our utmost concern so any type of vaccine record patient portals any of that we are putting in all of the layers of verification. So, only the people who are due those records are getting those records and that is only at the patient's request.”
That was Monday. By Wednesday, Case checked again to see if the state health department put more safeguards in place. With a family member’s permission, I requested their vaccination records by simply typing self in the box that asks for relationship to the requestee and putting my own email in the email box. I got receipt confirmation emailed to me that says they’re experiencing high volume and it may take 5-10 business days. I’ll let you know if I’m successful getting my family member’s vaccine records like AJ.
She says, “Ultimately, this responsibility rests on the Commissioner of the Health Department Dr. Lisa Piercey. The buck has to stop with her and since she answers to the legislature, the legislature is going to have to do something. Call a special session to implement a study, an investigation to find out how long this has been happening.”
Her biggest concern is potential employers, schools or anyone else abusing someone’s private vaccination information to discriminate, segregate or even bully. “I feel there are probably a lot of people out there who are going to file probably breach of privacy lawsuits against the department of health. There really needs to be an investigation.”
FOX 17 News checked the vaccine records request site one more time just before closing time Wednesday to see if it's still operating status quo.
We found the state health department has just put up a message late Tuesday saying "the record request process is under review" essentially shutting down this portal on the Tennessee Department of Health website for now.
We will keep you updated on how the state fixes these security issues that we have brought to light.
The fall of Kabul: a 20-year mission collapses in a single day
President Ashraf Ghani flees Afghanistan as Taliban sweep into city to seize control of country
The final collapse of the 20-year western mission to Afghanistan took only a single day as Taliban gunmen entered the capital, Kabul, on Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and America abandoned its embassy in panic.
Even the militants themselves were surprised by the speed of the takeover, co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar admitted in a video statement in the evening. Now the group faces the challenge of ruling, he added. They are expected to proclaim a new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan soon.
Many in Kabul do not trust promises made by the former insurgents of an amnesty for their old enemies and those, like women’s rights activists, who sought a different future for Afghanistan. The airport was mobbed with thousands of people desperate to escape. In the evening they flooded on to the runway, halting all air traffic.
In deeply humiliating scenes for the Biden administration, less than a month before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, smoke spiralled from the embassy compound as staff hastily destroyed documents, before a final group took down the stars and stripes flag and headed to the airport by military helicopter.
It was clear from early Sunday that a second era of Taliban rule had effectively begun. Taliban commanders started the day so confident of victory that after their fighters surrounded the capital, they ordered them to stay outside the city and wait.
“Our forces are not entering Kabul city. We want a peaceful transfer of power,” said spokesman Suhail Shaheen. But with surrender apparently inevitable, Afghan government forces melted away, looting broke out, and hours later the Taliban claimed their men were needed to restore order.
So they moved in not as fighters but as policemen, presenting themselves as a government in waiting. By evening the Taliban had seized the “Arg”, the presidential palace that is Afghanistan’s historic seat of power.
It is expected to be used to declare a new Islamic Emirate, more than two decades after the group had established its first one, and TV footage showed Taliban fighters roaming its rooms and taking down flags to replace with their own standard.
Afghans with no option to leave had raced home to destroy evidence of western or government links when they realised the Taliban were arriving. Women without burqas searched for shops where they could buy them. Even hospitals were closed, with at least one desperate woman forced to give birth at home, with a doctor she begged to attend.
In parks and other open areas, people who had fled the Taliban’s advance in other parts of Afghanistan huddled in tents, fearful of a future they had tried and failed to escape. The United Nations refugee agency says more than 550,000 people in Afghanistan have left their homes due to the conflict since the start of this year.
Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman, has promised “amnesty” for those who worked for the now-fallen government, or with western nations, inviting them – though probably only the men – to serve under Taliban rule. “We once again invite them all to come and serve the nation and the country,” he said.
But it was an offer viewed with scepticism by many. In areas seized by the group there have been credible reports of reprisal killings, execution of surrendering soldiers, and women forced from their jobs at gunpoint, barred from education and forced into marriage by militants.
But a US mandate that once aimed to rebuild Afghanistan had been reduced to trying to get all staff, and Afghan allies who had made the sometimes random cut, out of the country before a full Taliban takeover.
All other western embassies were already operating only out of the airport, at the insistence of the US. Their buildings across town stood largely empty, although diplomats for Russia, Pakistan, Iran and other countries that had not been part of the Nato mission remained in their compounds.
The exodus of those who could get out began early, after the insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad, the last major centre held by the government, and the nearby border crossing with Pakistan.
By evening, Ghani was reportedly in Tajikistan. In a post on Facebook, he acknowledged the Taliban’s military victory, and said he left to avoid fighting in Kabul that would have caused a “flood of bloodshed”.
“The Taliban have won with the judgment of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,” Ghani wrote.
Former president Hamid Karzai, in contrast, shared a video of himself with his daughters, promising to stay in Kabul. He is part of a newly formed coordination council of Afghan leaders, which will meet with the Taliban and manage the transfer of power.
There was anger at the flight of a man who just a day earlier had been on national TV, promising to reorganise the army. “Ghani sold the country to the Taliban,” said civil servant Karima Jamili. “I trusted him and voted for him but he is a failed leader.”
But as the Taliban approached there had also been fears of street-to-street fighting, a reprisal of the brutal civil war that ripped Afghanistan apart in the 1990s and reduced Kabul to ruins. So some welcomed his departure, despite trepidation about what would come next.
“Imagine if he fought against the Taliban; how many lives would be taken and how many innocent civilians would be killed?” said Hadia, a university student. “Considering that all provinces are under the control of the Taliban now, it was the only way to decrease violence temporarily.”
The Taliban’s almost bloodless seizure of the capital came after a lightning 11-day offensive on cities across Afghanistan. They had already seized most of rural Afghanistan along with key border crossings in a campaign that began in May, and this month they moved on urban areas nationwide in force, splintering and demoralising Afghan forces.
On Friday they captured the second and third largest cities, southern Kandahar and western Herat, and on Saturday the northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif fell.
It then seemed a question of when, rather than if, the Taliban would take Kabul but even so the speed of Sunday’s collapse was stunning. A US intelligence estimate just last week had said Kabul could hold out for at least three months.
It came almost exactly two decades after an international coalition led by Washington and London triumphantly toppled the Taliban in December 2001, seemingly consigning their caliphate to history.
Both in the UK and the US politicians tried to cast their long mission as an anti-terror one that would continue. UK prime minister Boris Johnson, asked about the situation in Afghanistan, said in a TV interview: “It’s very important that the west collectively should work together to get over to that new government, be it by the Taliban or anybody else: nobody wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror.”
But the west for years also laid out an explicit mission to support democracy and human rights, and most of those gains are expected to be swept away. The Taliban have always been clear that they are fighting for an austere interpretation of Islam, which includes particularly severe restrictions on women and girls.
Over years of peace talks brokered by the US, Taliban negotiators have promised to respect women’s rights under Islam, but refused to be drawn on details. And in areas they control women already have limited education, work and freedom of movement.
In Kabul, shops had started erasing photos of women in wedding dresses and women were bracing for a very different life. “I have felt very sad today; it was unbelievable for me that the Taliban were back in Kabul,” said Hawa. “They will not respect our freedom.”
Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and more than 70 other Republican state representatives on Wednesday formally requested that Gov. Bill Lee call a special session of the General Assembly.
Sexton said last week he and other legislators want to restrain public school officials who might mandate or have already mandated that students wear COVID-19 masks.
Sexton, in a letter to Lee, said members of the Tennessee General Assembly must “convene and address misdirected and mandated responses to COVID-19 by local entities and officials.”
“It is of the utmost urgency to move quickly due to the potential of significant harm to Tennesseans. We believe there is a need to curtail the overreach by independent health boards and officials, confirm a parent’s right to make decisions that impact the mental and physical health of their children, provide support and direction to schools to ensure educators are properly compensated for COVID-19 leave, and protect all Tennesseans from misdirected mandates designed to limit their ability to make their own decisions.” Sexton wrote.
“The six independent health boards, along with unelected officials, have made and will continue to make decisions that stifle access to educational opportunities for our children and infringe on their freedoms and liberty. Some of these mandates have been accompanied by threats of reckless endangerment, school closure, and segregating students based on vaccination status.”
Sexton also said that General Assembly members must “evaluate the ongoing discrimination of Tennesseans by prohibiting their access to buildings due only to their vaccination status.”
You can read Speaker Sexton’s letter to Gov. Lee here:
Members of the Williamson County School Board said Tuesday that students there will have to wear COVID-19 masks whether they — or their parents — like it or not, at least until September 21.
Clay Travis, of Outkick the Coverage and also The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, spoke during the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting. He said two of his children attend Williamson County schools.
“We teach our kids that facts matter. That is why they go to school. The facts are these. Masks don’t work. There isn’t a single scientific data that has ever proven that masks work. Also, let’s talk about risk analysis. I feel bad for all of these people walking around in masks and engaging in cosmetic theater thinking that they are making a difference against COVID. They aren’t,” Travis said.
“Here is the truth. Our kids, under 25-years-old, there is a one in a million chance that they are going to die of COVID. They are more likely to be struck by lightning. They are more likely to die of the seasonal flu. Have any of you ever mandated masks for the seasonal flu? Well, shame on you because every kid in Williamson County schools has been under more danger from the seasonal flu every year than they are for COVID. I would tell every parent here don’t let your kids wear masks.”
Members of the Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) Board’s also decided to impose a COVID-19 mask mandate upon their students. MNPS board members voted last week to require masks by a vote of eight to one, according to the school system’s website. MNPS Director Adrienne Battle said she and other school system officials wanted this due to an “alarming rise in COVID-19 cases and spread of the Delta variant.” She also cited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) recommendation on the matter.
Sexton said last week that parents alone must decide whether their children will wear masks in schools.
– – –
Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to email@example.com.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND ADDITIONAL ARTICLES
6 Governors Stripped Of Power Because Of Overreach During The COVID-19 Pandemic
August 09, 2021
Lawmakers in 46 states have moved to limit governors’ emergency powers wielded during the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing executives have overextended their authority.
Pennsylvania voters in May approved two amendments to the state’s constitution proposed by Republican lawmakers that sought to limit the executive power of Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf, while Republican lawmakers in Michigan voted in July to repeal the Emergency Powers Act of 1945, a law used by Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to issue widespread restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic without consulting the legislature.
The power struggles between legislatures and governors are not necessarily partisan, with the overwhelmingly-Democrat legislature in New York voting to limit Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers in a bill passed in March.
State legislatures in six states limited their governors’ emergency powers wielded during the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing executives have overextended their authority.
As of June 2021, lawmakers in 46 states have introduced legislation stripping governors of certain emergency powers, according to USA Today. Legislatures justified their actions as necessary to restore a balance between the branches of state government, pointing to examples of executive overreach and the centralization of power in the hands of governors.
While in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Michigan Republican lawmakers have curtailed the emergency powers of Democrat governors, the cases of legislatures limiting executive authority in New York, Ohio, and Idaho demonstrate that power struggles between lawmakers and governors are not necessarily partisan.
The Republican-dominated Kentucky legislature in February overrode Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes on three bills designed to limit his executive power.
One bill prevented the closure of schools, businesses, and churches during the pandemic so long as they met certain requirements, while another limited Beshear’s executive orders that restrict the function of schools and businesses to no longer than 30 days, with extensions granted by the legislature.
The legislature also granted itself the power to cancel any of Beshear’s emergency orders, and automatically limited all emergency restrictions affecting businesses, schools, churches, and local governments. Though the bills were enacted, Beshear filed a lawsuit challenging their constitutionality, which is currently ongoing.
Republicans in the state legislature had been highly critical of Beshear’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing the governor had not properly consulted with lawmakers when enacting emergency restrictions, and that power was too centralized in his hands.
“While we take this virus seriously, we will not be cover for his unilateral decision-making,” Republican state Rep. David Osborne said, according to LEX 18.
Republican state Sen. Matt Castlen, a sponsor of one of the bills, cited the need to have the state legislature’s input when enacting emergency restrictions.
“We gladly look forward to having a seat at the table representing all corners of Kentucky in the decisions going forward,” Castlen said in a press release.
Pennsylvania voters in May approved two amendments to the state’s constitution proposed by Republican lawmakers that sought to limit the executive power of Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf. The amendments permit the legislature to cancel a governor’s emergency declaration with a simple majority vote rather than the previous two-thirds vote, and force the governor to renew emergency declarations through the legislature every 21 days.
Wolf’s restrictive lockdown orders, especially some of the more unusual policies such as a ban on alcohol sales over the Thanksgiving holiday, were criticized by citizens, business owners and lawmakers alike. He was also the subject of scrutiny from the Department of Justice (DOJ) over his handling of the pandemic after he ordered nursing homes to accept new residents who had contracted COVID-19, though the DOJ declined to investigate in July.
Republicans in the state legislature cited executive overreach in Wolf’s handling of the pandemic as the reason for the amendments.
“They [voters] have rejected the mutation of emergency authority into unilateral, one-person control that seeks expediency over the rule of law,” Republican state Reps. Bryan Cutler and Kerry Benninghoff said in a joint statement on the vote.
Cutler and Benninghoff, along with other members of the legislature, had been strongly opposed to the state’s lockdown orders, lauding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling declaring stay-at-home orders unconstitutional.
“Last night, voters took the crown off Tom Wolf’s head. Now we can reopen our economy and get our kids back to school,” the Pennsylvania Republican Party tweeted following the vote.
Republican lawmakers in Michigan voted in July to repeal the Emergency Powers Act of 1945, a law used by Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to issue widespread restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic without consulting the legislature. The Michigan Supreme Court had declared the law unconstitutional in October 2020, ostensibly stripping Whitmer of her emergency powers, but the legislature’s move to repeal the law entirely would prevent a reversal of the court’s decision from reinstating it.
Republicans took a dim view of Whitmer’s COVID-19 response, with the former President Donald Trump suggesting in October 2020 she “wants to be a dictator” in an interview with Fox Business. Whitmer, who received criticism for violating her own COVID-19 policies, had issued hundreds of executive orders imposing restrictions on businesses and schools, including a 10:00 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants.
Whitmer, like Wolf, was also the subject of DOJ scrutiny over her nursing home policies, with the department dropping its investigation into her handling of the pandemic in July.
The legislature repealed the Emergency Powers Act by adopting a petition championed by Unlock Michigan, an organization that describes itself as believing “Whitmer’s crushing lockdown of life and business” are a “dangerous threat to our livelihoods and constitutional liberties.”
As in the cases of Kentucky and Pennsylvania, lawmakers cited executive overreach as justification for their decisions.
“Governor Whitmer failed Michiganders by refusing to open the state and shed her unilateral, overreaching powers,” said state Rep. Doug Wozniak in a statement announcing the repeal.
The overwhelmingly-Democrat legislature in New York voted to limit Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers in a bill passed in March. Under the new law, Cuomo would have to earn the approval of lawmakers before issuing any new pandemic-related directives, though he would be permitted to extend orders already in place.
At the time of the vote Cuomo was facing multiple investigations, some of which were related to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor had issued an order in March 2020 forcing nursing homes to accept patients with the coronavirus, and when the policy resulted in thousands of deaths, knowingly undercounted the true death toll.
The majority-Republican Ohio General Assembly successfully enacted a law in March 2021 allowing lawmakers to cancel gubernatorial health orders lasting longer than 30 days and forcing Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, to renew all orders through the legislature, overriding the governor’s veto. DeWine had previously vetoed a number of bills in the fall of 2020 that attempted to strip his office of the authority to issue statewide coronavirus orders without consulting the legislature.
Republican lawmakers stressed the need to return control to the legislature as justification for the law, arguing power was too centralized in the governor’s hands.
“Strong majorities in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate passed thoughtful, balanced and constitutional legislation to provide appropriate and measured oversight and to ensure Ohioans’ voices are heard,” Republican state Rep. Bob Cupp said in a statement on the override.
Republican lawmakers in Idaho echoed the reasoning of the Ohio legislature in their decision to limit the emergency powers of Republican Gov. Brad Little. The legislature voted in favor of a law in April to force the governor to earn the approval of lawmakers before extending emergency orders beyond 60 days.
“They [emergencies] require, and I believe Idahoans deserve, that in those moments, the full array of our elected officials…be brought to Boise to deal with those issues,” Republican state Sen. Kelly Anthon said when arguing for passage of the law, according to the Idaho Statesman.
The legislature also proposed an amendment to the state’s constitution allowing the legislature to call itself into session, a power previously reserved to the governor, which will be voted on by Idahoans in a ballot measure in November 2022.
Nine Indicted In Scheme To Profit From Confidential Memphis Police Info
Published August 9, 2021
By Jon Styf [The Center Square contributor] –
Nine people have been indicted, including a former Shelby County assistant district attorney general, after an investigation found they were “were responsible for an elaborate scheme to profit from the use of confidential information in Memphis police reports,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Friday.
The group included three former Memphis Police Department employees, a Memphis attorney and four others. Former 30th District Assistant District Attorney General Glenda Adams, Egypt Berry, Latausha Blair, Renatta Dillard, Roderick Harvey, Marcus Lewis, personal injury attorney Aaron Neglia, Martin Nolan and Mustafa Sajid were charged.
Berry, Blair and Nolan were employees of the Memphis Police Department but have since resigned. Berry, Blair and Dillard were taken into custody. Harvey remains at large. The rest, per their attorney, plan to turn themselves in to the Shelby County Jail.
The investigation began in June 2020 at the request of 30th District Attorney General Amy Weirich, who recused herself from the case and 13th District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway was appointed to take it.
Adams, Nolan and Berry were indicted for bribery of a public servant, official misconduct and violation of a computer act over $10,000.
Blair and Dillard were indicted for violation of a computer act over $10,000. Lewis and Sajid were indicted for bribery of a public servant.
Harvey and Neglia were indicted for bribery of a public servant and violation of computer act over $10,000.
TBI said that the case “remains an active and ongoing investigation” and “more indictments are expected.”
MCALLEN, Texas — A border city in south Texas declared a local disaster this week as it struggles to respond to surging cases of the coronavirus among migrants as thousands are released by the Border Patrol onto the street every week.
Last week, a record-high 7,000 migrants were released in downtown McAllen, where they were immediately tested for the coronavirus through a city contractor. More than 1,500 people tested positive over the past seven days, according to a city document issued Wednesday, compared to a total of 7,000 confirmed cases over the past five months. Those who test positive are told to quarantine for two days but are ultimately released into the public.
The city said in a statement that the "shockingly large number of immigrants" released by Customs and Border Protection into the city overwhelmed Catholic Charities, which provides humanitarian services in the city for migrants. "This significant change increases the threat of COVID spread or other lawlessness within the city," the city said.
The Catholic Charities shelter downtown has taken in migrants released by federal border authorities for seven years but has never seen numbers like those over the past few weeks. In early July, the shelter averaged 750 arrivals daily, increasing to 1,100, and up to 1,900 per day in the first few days of August. The center is only approved to hold 1,236 people at a time.
“Faced with a rapidly escalating surge of immigrants at the Texas-Mexico Border, the City of McAllen’s Emergency Management Office, in coordination with City Management and in accordance with the Mayor’s Declaration of Local Disaster executed on August 2, 2021, took swift action to begin its efforts to mitigate emergent health and safety risks,” the city wrote in a statement issued Wednesday.
To avoid releasing hundreds of people on the street every day, McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos declared a local state of disaster that allowed the city to get reimbursed by the country and state for costs incurred responding to the emergency. That includes renting a larger property several miles north where far more people can be held at once.
The trouble for McAllen is that its contractor overseeing coronavirus testing among migrants, the American Medical Response, leases city property downtown, complicating how migrants with and without the coronavirus will be transported to and from testing.
The McAllen City Commission also instructed the city’s emergency management office and city management to ask Hidalgo County to put up an emergency management facility elsewhere in the city to deal with the “overwhelming” number of migrants being released in the town. The commission also told the city to ask the Biden administration for relief to deal with the escalating situation.
The Club for Growth has tracked how many floor votes were missed by members of the state House and Senate. The average representative missed 8% of the vote, while the average in the upper chamber was 6%.
Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) missed 100% of the 2,244 House votes as he was hospitalized following a COVID-19 infection. Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) missed most of the session before passing away from cancer, meaning he missed 99% of votes. Rep. Jason Potts (D-Nashville) was away for 60% of votes, while Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) missed 50%.
Out of the 2,105 Senate votes tracked by the group this year, Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) missed more than any of her colleagues with 40%. She was followed by Sens. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) with 22%, Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) with 20%, and Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) with 19%.
Lundberg and Ogles said their absences were due to COVID-19 infections.
“I appreciate you reaching out regarding the scorecard, I think it’s great that you put that together to keep us accountable,” Ogles said in a statement to the group. “Unfortunately, I was out with COVID-19 starting 3/15/21 and was not healthy enough to return until 4/26/21.”