Archive for June, 2012
The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal
A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.
By Katherine Eban
FORTUNE — In the annals of impossible assignments, Dave Voth’s ranked high. In 2009 the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives promoted Voth to lead Phoenix Group VII, one of seven new ATF groups along the Southwest border tasked with stopping guns from being trafficked into Mexico’s vicious drug war.
Some call it the “parade of ants”; others the “river of iron.” The Mexican government has estimated that 2,000 weapons are smuggled daily from the U.S. into Mexico. The ATF is hobbled in its effort to stop this flow. No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking, so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority. The National Rifle Association has so successfully opposed a comprehensive electronic database of gun sales that the ATF’s congressional appropriation explicitly prohibits establishing one.
Voth, 39, was a good choice for a Sisyphean task. Strapping and sandy-haired, the former Marine is cool-headed and punctilious to a fault. In 2009 the ATF named him outstanding law-enforcement employee of the year for dismantling two violent street gangs in Minneapolis. He was the “hardest working federal agent I’ve come across,” says John Biederman, a sergeant with the Minneapolis Police Department. But as Voth left to become the group supervisor of Phoenix Group VII, a friend warned him: “You’re destined to fail.”
Voth’s mandate was to stop gun traffickers in Arizona, the state ranked by the gun-control advocacy group Legal Community Against Violence as having the nation’s “weakest gun violence prevention laws.” Just 200 miles from Mexico, which prohibits gun sales, the Phoenix area is home to 853 federally licensed firearms dealers. Billboards advertise volume discounts for multiple purchases.
Customers can legally buy as many weapons as they want in Arizona as long as they’re 18 or older and pass a criminal background check. There are no waiting periods and no need for permits, and buyers are allowed to resell the guns. “In Arizona,” says Voth, “someone buying three guns is like someone buying a sandwich.”
By 2009 the Sinaloa drug cartel had made Phoenix its gun supermarket and recruited young Americans as its designated shoppers or straw purchasers. Voth and his agents began investigating a group of buyers, some not even old enough to buy beer, whose members were plunking down as much as $20,000 in cash to purchase up to 20 semiautomatics at a time, and then delivering the weapons to others.
Justice Scalia must resign
By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published: June 27
Justice Antonin Scalia needs to resign from the Supreme Court.
He’d have a lot of things to do. He’s a fine public speaker and teacher. He’d be a heck of a columnist and blogger. But he really seems to aspire to being a politician — and that’s the problem.
So often, Scalia has chosen to ignore the obligation of a Supreme Court justice to be, and appear to be, impartial. He’s turned “judicial restraint” into an oxymoronic phrase. But what he did this week, when the court announced its decision on the Arizona immigration law, should be the end of the line.
Not content with issuing a fiery written dissent, Scalia offered a bench statement questioning President Obama’s decision to allow some immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children to stay. Obama’s move had nothing to do with the case in question. Scalia just wanted you to know where he stood.
“After this case was argued and while it was under consideration, the secretary of homeland security announced a program exempting from immigration enforcement some 1.4 million illegal immigrants,” Scalia said. “The president has said that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’s failure to pass the administration’s proposed revision of the immigration laws. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal immigration law that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind.”
What boggles the mind is that Scalia thought it proper to jump into this political argument. And when he went on to a broader denunciation of federal policies, he sounded just like an Arizona Senate candidate.
“Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem,” the politician-justice proclaimed. “Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy. Federal officials have been unable to remedy the problem, and indeed have recently shown that they are simply unwilling to do so.
“Arizona has moved to protect its sovereignty — not in contradiction of federal law, but in complete compliance with it.” Cue the tea party rally applause.
As it happens, Obama has stepped up immigration enforcement. But if the 76-year-old justice wants to dispute this, he is perfectly free as a citizen to join the political fray and take on the president. But he cannot be a blatantly political actor and a justice at the same time.
Unaccountable power can lead to arrogance. That’s why justices typically feel bound by rules and conventions that Scalia seems to take joy in ignoring. Recall a 2004 incident. Three weeks after the Supreme Court announced it would hear a case over whether the White House needed to turn over documents from an energy task force that Dick Cheney had headed, Scalia went off on Air Force Two for a duck-hunting trip with the vice president.
Scalia scoffed at the idea that he should recuse himself. “My recusal is required if . . . my ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned,’ ” he wrote in a 21-page memo. Well, yes. But there was no cause for worry, Scalia explained, since he never hunted with Cheney “in the same blind or had other opportunity for private conversation.”
Don’t you feel better? And can you just imagine what the right wing would have said if Vice President Biden had a case before the court and went duck hunting with Justice Elena Kagan?
Then there was the speech Scalia gave at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg a few weeks before the court was to hear a case involving the rights of Guantanamo detainees.
“I am astounded at the world reaction to Guantanamo,” he declared in response to a question. “We are in a war. We are capturing these people on the battlefield. We never gave a trial in civil courts to people captured in a war. War is war and it has never been the case that when you capture a combatant, you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts. It’s a crazy idea to me.”
It was a fine speech for a campaign gathering, the appropriate venue for a man so eager to brand the things he disagrees with as crazy or mind-boggling. Scalia should free himself to pursue his true vocation. We can then use his resignation as an occasion for a searching debate over just how political this Supreme Court has become.
Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) became the latest incumbent to lose a primary on Tuesday, falling to tea party-backed Jim Bridenstine.
Sullivan survived a 2010 primary after taking time away from Congress, citing his “addiction to alcohol.” On Tuesday, he lost narrowly amidst a spirited — if under-funded — challenge from Bridenstine, a Navy pilot who raised less than $300,000 for the race.
The tea-party Republican effort to turn conservative GOP legislators out of office largely failed to materialize Tuesday.
Tuesday night’s unofficial election results were incomplete and slowed by problems getting returns from Tulsa County, but it appears only one incumbent legislator – Rep. Guy Liebmann – was turned out of office in the GOP primary.
Liebmann was defeated by tea-party challenger Mike Turner, but in many other contests conservative candidates turned back tea-party challengers.
In one of the closest contests of the night, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, defeated Marine Corps veteran Kevin McDugle in the race for Senate District 39. He will face Democrat Julie Hall in the Nov. 6 general election. Read More http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=688&articleid=20120627_16_A1_CUTLIN711474