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09.01.2011., nedjelja

Giffords shooting raises questions about security for lawmakers

By Yochi J. Dreazen and Marc AmbinderNational Journal
The shooting of Democratic Congressman Gabrielle Giffords outside a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona highlights a little-noticed aspect of life in today's Congress: despite record numbers of threats and a toxic political environment, most lawmakers are almost completely unprotected when they venture outside the secure bubble of Capitol Hill
Giffords, who was shot in the head, remained in critical condition Saturday, and doctors said it was too soon to know if she'd pull through. Either way, the attack was the most serious act of violence against a member of Congress since the assassination of Rep. Leo Ryan in Guyana in 1978 and is certain to prompt a far-reaching reexamination of security protections for lawmakers.
(With Giffords Shooting, A Grim Milestone)The sprawling Capitol Hill complex is guarded by the 1,800 members of the U.S. Capitol Police, an independent police force whose uniformed personnel are stationed in and around all the office buildings there.  Plain-clothes members of that force also provide round-the-clock protection to top elected officials like Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  A small number of lawmakers who have served on panels like the Intelligence Committees - and thus have access to classified information - also receive personal security details.
When large numbers of members of Congress plan to congregate publicly in a location outside the Capitol, the Capitol Police generally sends a team to scout the location in advance and provide security, in concert with local police agencies.  Upon request, the force provides guidance to Congressional offices about holding events in public. And in practice, municipal police agencies tend to station an officer or two at events, generally to provide a deterrent and to mark the event as public or official.
But the vast majority of lawmakers receive no government-provided protection unless there are reliable indications of possible threats against them. ‚ There were no reported threats against Giffords in advance of today's shooting, according to a federal law enforcement official. That meant she was entirely unguarded in the run-up to the attack.
Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, declined to comment on the specific security measures which are afforded to lawmakers like Giffords. In an emailed statement, she said the police were "directly involved in the ongoing investigation" into the Giffords shooting.
(Suspect Appears To Have Left Trail of Anti-Government Musings Online)She added, without offering any details, "that the Capitol Police had communicated with House Members of Congress, advising them to take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal safety and security."
It's a difficult time for the Capitol Police, who are confronting record levels of threats against congressmen and senators. ‚ Making things even more difficult for the police, the vast majority of the threats rarely rise above the level of verbal abuse or emailed threats, which leaves them strling to determine which threats to refer to the FBI for further investigation and which to lawmakers to protect. ‚ It is a federal crime to harm an elected U.S. representative or senator, but it is not a crime to threaten one. ‚ That stands in sharp contrast to the president, for whom any kind of threat can be a crime.
Last year, for instance, Rep. Heath Shuler told FBI investigators that he got a phone message which said: "If you vote for that stimulus package, I'm gonna kill you. Simple as that."
An analysis by POLITICO in December found that the FBI had investigated 236 threats to members of Congress over the past ten years, resulting in a small number of arrests. Those numbers are almost certainly an understatement: Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer said that threats against members of Congress had soared 300 percent in the opening months of 2010.
(House Members Warned About Safety at Events)
Relying on information gathered by Freedom of Information Request, Politico reported that Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin were both threatened with assassination, as was then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
During the acrimonious health care debate, the FBI investigated several instances of vandalism at Congressional offices. The Secret Service quietly increased the size of the security package around the First Family at certain points. They took notice when New Hampshire residents openly brandished guns outside an Obama event.
Privately, White House officials worried that the heated rhetoric of the debate, the language that put representatives like Giffords in the crosshairs of targets, the talk of "revolution," might catalyze violence against politicians.  But in public they would not do so.
From the perspective of federal law enforcement agencies, any pubic acknowledgment that the political climate can lead to a higher threat level runs the risk of politicizing the threat itself, something a-political federal agencies don't want to do. A Department of Homeland Security analysis warning about right-wing rhetoric drew condemnation for painting with too broad a brush when it was leaked, even though other federal agencies, none of whom are particularly sympathetic to left-wing political causes, had come to similar conclusions.

Visit National Journal for more political news.

Sarkozy US-bound for global talks with Obama

PARIS (AFP) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads to Washington on Monday for talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama on international security and France's plans for world monetary reform.

The one-day visit comes as France embarks on its year at the presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) rich and emerging economies, as well as the Group of Eight (G8) powers, during which Sarkozy wants to reform currency and commodity markets and world governance.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss security challenges such as the NATO-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, security in Pakistan and threats from militants that particularly concern France in north Africa.

Sarkozy on Sunday branded as "terrorists" suspected Al-Qaeda-linked kidnappers believed to have killed two Frenchmen in Niger.

"This odious crime will only strengthen France's determination to fight tirelessly against terrorism... Democracies will fight face to face against these barbarians from another age who want to terrorise the whole world," he said.

One of Sarkozy's aides said the president attached "great importance to consulting his big partners" about his leadership this year of the G20 and G8 group of six major Western powers plus Russia and Japan.

"These discussions will allow him to refine the proposals he will make" during a press conference on January 24 dedicated to the G20 and G8 presidency, said the aide, who asked not be named.

On the Group of Eight, "the discussions will notably cover green economic growth, the Internet and partnership with Africa," the aide said, adding that Obama in turn would attend the G8 summit in France in May.

Sarkozy is due to arrive in Washington, accompanied by his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, on Monday morning and head straight into a meeting with Obama, followed by a joint declaration and then a working lunch.

Bruni-Sarkozy will have lunch separately with US First Lady Michelle Obama, the French presidency said.

Economy Minister Christine Lagarde and Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie will accompany Sarkozy on the trip, which his office said would also likely cover Middle East peace and the political crisis in Ivory Coast.

It is Sarkozy's first meeting with Obama since the leaking of sensitive US diplomatic cables by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, which contained some embarrassing revelations for world leaders.

They revealed among other things that US diplomats, while lauding Sarkozy's pro-American stance and his pragmatism, branded him erratic and touchy with a complex private life.

The United States came in for criticism of its monetary policy at the last G20 gathering in Seoul, but Obama ahead of Monday's meetings highlighted his keenness for economic cooperation.

"As France assumes the presidency of the G8 and the G20 for 2011, the president looks forward to working with President Sarkozy to sustain the global economic recovery and create jobs," said a White House statement last week.

"The two presidents will also discuss a broad range of current foreign policy and security issues."

The presidency of the global groups offers Sarkozy a chance to boost his profile at home ahead of his widely expected bid for re-election in 2012.

He has low approval ratings and various rivals are expected in the coming months to announce bids to replace him.

Giffords has deep ties to NASA through husband

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The horrific shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords is being felt all the way to space.
Giffords' husband is astronaut Mark Kelly, who is slated to fly a space shuttle in April. His identical twin brother, Scott Kelly, is commander of the international space station.
From space, Scott Kelly tweeted his thanks for support and prayers. He praised his sister-in-law, and called it a sad day. He is stuck on the space station until March.
The shuttle flight Giffords' husband is supposed to lead as commander might be NASA's last shuttle flight before the spacecraft are retired. NASA says it's premature to speculate as to whether he will be able to go ahead as commander of that shuttle mission.

Obama calls for moment of silence Monday morning

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is calling on people in the United States to observe a moment of silence at 11 a.m. EST Monday to honor victims of the Arizona shooting.
A White House statement says the moment of silence will allow people to come together, in prayer or reflection, and keep the victims and their families close at heart.
Obama will observe the moment of silence with White House staff on the South Lawn.
The president has signed a proclamation calling for flags to be flown at half-staff. The White House has postponed Obama's trip on Tuesday to visit a General Electric energy division in Schenectady, N.Y.

Analysis: It's a stretch to link shooting to Palin and heated rhetoric

NEW YORK – Already, people are pointing fingers at Sarah Palin and her "target map" for fostering the tragedy in Arizona2”but Howard Kurtz says military terminology has been part of politics for ages.

I hate to say this, but the blame game is already under way.

It began within hours of Saturday's horrifying shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and nearly 20 others, even before the gunman was identified.

One of the first to be dragged into this sickening ritual of guilt by association: Sarah Palin. Last March, the former Alaska governor posted a map on her Facebook page with crosshair targets representing 20 Democratic lawmakers she was singling out for defeat after they voted for President Obama's health care plan. One of them was Giffords. Palin, who touts her caribou-hunting heritage, also tweeted, "Don't retreat, RELOAD!"

This kind of rhetoric is highly unfortunate. The use of the crosshairs was dumb. But it's a long stretch from such excessive language and symbols to holding a public official accountable for a murderer who opens fire on a political gathering and kills a half-dozen people, including a 9-year-old girl.

On her Facebook page, Palin offered her "sincere condolences" to Giffords and the others who were shot, saying that "on behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."

This isn't about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it's about a lone nutjob who doesn't value human life.

Liberals were quick to denounce Palin at the time of the map posting. And after Giffords' Tucson office was vandalized that same month, the Democratic congresswoman told MSNBC, "We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list. But the thing is, the way she has it depicted it has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. And when people do that, they've got to realize there are consequences to that action."

Giffords had every right to ask Palin and others to tone it down. But is it now fair for the rest of us to tie Palin to the accused gunman, Jared Lee Loughner?

Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn't act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?

Palin seemed to pull back in a subsequent campaign appearance for her former running mate, John McCain. "We know violence isn't the answer," she said. "When we take up our arms, we're talking about our vote."

But she also mocked the criticism as politically correct, using her Facebook platform to apply the same language to basketball's Final Four: "To the teams that desire making it this far next year: Gear up! In the battle, set your sights on next season's targets! From the shot across the bow2”the first second's tip-off2”your leaders will be in the enemy's crosshairs, so you must execute strong defensive tactics."

A fellow Arizona Democrat, Rep. Raul Grijalva, said that the Palin 2Zapparatus2 shares responsibility for creating a climate of extremism. "Both Gabby and I were targeted in the apparatus in that cycle [saying] these people are 'enemies,2™2 Grivjalva told Mother Jones2™s David Corn. He added: 2ZThe Palin express better look at their tone and their tenor.2And MSNBC's Keith Olbermann made the link even more explicit on Saturday night: "If Sarah Palin, whose website put and today scrubbed bullseye targets on 20 representatives including Gabby Giffords, does not repudiate her own part in amplifying violence and violent imagery in politics, she must be dismissed from politics."

Of course, some rhetoric is deliberately incendiary. U.S. District Judge John Roll, one of those shot and killed in Tucson, had ruled in 2009 that a lawsuit by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher could go forward. Afterward, U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said that talk radio shows fanned the flames and prompted hundreds of calls to the judge, some of them threatening. "They said, 'We should kill him. He should be dead,'" Gonzales told the Arizona Republic.

The act of transforming tragedy into political fodder has deep roots in American history. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, President Bill Clinton attacked "the purveyors of hatred and division" for "reckless speech," saying the nation's airwaves were too often used "to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate, they leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable."

Rush Limbaugh, who had tangled with Clinton, responded that "liberals intend to use this tragedy for their own political gain." He blamed "many in the mainstream media" for "irresponsible attempts to categorize and demonize those who had nothing to do with this."

When George Tiller was murdered at a Kansas church in 2009, liberal critics savaged Bill O'Reilly for having attacked the abortion doctor more than two dozen times, labeling him "Tiller the Baby Killer." The Fox News host called the criticism "nonsense," saying "evidence shows that Tiller was a gross human rights violator. Yet, because most media people are pro-choice, they looked away. Now they are trying to justify their apathy by attacking us."

Last summer, after an unemployed carpenter named Byron Williams shot and injured two California police officers, we learned that he had told investigators that he wanted "to start a revolution" by "killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU." Some commentators blamed Glenn Beck, who had repeatedly attacked the obscure foundation, which calls for economic justice2”especially after Williams's mother told the San Francisco Chronicle that the ex-felon watched television news and was upset by "the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items."

And here we go again in Arizona, as people with political agendas unleash their attacks even before the victims of this senseless shooting have been buried. I find it depressing beyond belief.

This isn't about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it's about a lone nutjob who doesn't value human life. It would be nice if we briefly put aside partisan differences and came together with sympathy and support for Gabby Giffords and the other victims, rather than opening rhetorical fire ourselves.

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.

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