Homeland Security

Don't let foxes guard our nuclear henhouse

Today the House Armed Services Committee will debate the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), possibly overturning 25 years of safety standards at our nation’s weapons facilities. During this debate members of this committee will have a choice – they can protect communities around nuclear sites and the employees who work there or they can go on record as turning their back on those safety standards.

There are several sections of the NDAA that relate directly to nuclear safety and pose a threat to security. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this bill is the fact that it would overturn the “adequate protection standard” that has guided nuclear safety oversight for over two decades. The adequate protection standard, which through legal precedent has been defined as not allowing cost considerations to impact safety recommendations, would be muddled by a new “low as reasonably practicable” standard, an imprecise measure undefined by statute and almost certain to favor cost-cutting measures over public safety.


The ban on torture is absolute

The United States experienced an inspiring moment earlier this month, when a 747 carried the space shuttle Discovery to its new home at the Smithsonian. I was fortunate to be in Washington that day; as I looked up at the sky, I was moved to feel pride in the intelligence, the vision and the scientific knowledge of this great country that made the space shuttle possible.
I keep thinking about that day as I consider Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, former chief of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center Jose Rodriguez’s book that praises the benefits of the torture he helped inflict on 9-11 detainees. It’s difficult to rationalize how the visionary work of something like our space program can come from the same country as the cowardly and inhumane work of our detainee interrogation program. This country can do such good, but we can also make terrible mistakes, and when we do, we must admit them, not justify them.


Fraud by illegal immigrants destroying children’s lives

Illegal immigrant workers not only take jobs from American workers, they also damage the future of millions of American children through fraud and identity theft.

It’s an issue that will not go away if our southern border is sealed or Mexican citizens decide the United States is no longer a desirable destination, as a recent Pew Hispanic Center study suggests. Forty percent of illegal immigrants are visa overstays who come from around the world. That percentage will only rise if the recent Pew Hispanic Center study is correct. Illegal immigrants need fraudulent documents to obtain employment no matter where they come from.

Children are particularly susceptible to identity theft.


SB1070 is working

In 2010, I introduced SB1070 to the Arizona Senate with two goals: To alleviate the problems that the federal government’s failure to secure our border and enforce our immigration laws inflicted on the citizens of Arizona, and to spark a national conversation about this issue that would eventually lead the federal government to act.

Despite parts of the bill being blocked by activist lower court judges, it has already succeeded on both counts. In 2009, illegal immigrants comprised 9.8 percent of Arizona’s workforce (Pew Hispanic Center) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform found that illegals cost Arizona taxpayers $2.6 billion a year. At the same time, failure to enforce our laws led to rampant crime, Phoenix had the highest kidnapping rate in the country, and dozens of police officers and citizens were killed or maimed by illegals.

The purpose of this bill is not to indiscriminately go through Hispanic neighborhoods and ask everyone to prove they are citizens.  Rather, SB1070 is part of Arizona’s attrition through enforcement strategy that began with 2004’s Prop 200 and 2007’s Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA), which I also authored. 


Redirect the nuclear weapons budget

Every few years, some outrageous abuse of the taxpayer's dollars rightfully grabs headlines. Many will remember the infamous $400 toilet seats that were part of the defense procurement scandals of the 1980’s. More recently, there was the “bridge to nowhere,” a $25 million dollar boondoggle that perfectly exemplified poor Congressional oversight of our taxes.

The problem with these headline grabbers is that they often focus on comparatively small matters in the relative scheme of federal spending and arguably distract attention from vastly more wasteful spending.

You need look no further for an example of this than the hundreds of billions of dollars that the U.S. is projected to spend on redundant and unnecessary nuclear weapons over the next decade.


A bi-partisan DREAM Act: A proposal that must be taken seriously

On March 27th, the news broke in The Hill that there were Republicans in Washington that were working on an alternative and more conservative version of the DREAM Act. While no details were released, Senator Marco Rubio indicated that the Republican plan would differ from the current DREAM Act, in that it would allow for a path to legalization for the kids that could qualify for relief under the bill, but would not allow these kids to have a pathway to citizenship expressly through this legislation. Immediately, several progressive news outlets and advocates denounced the idea as a political move. I find that argument to be both ironic and specious. Their argument is ironic, because for as long as our coalition, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, has been working to create political space for conservative immigration solutions, we have continually heard the argument that it cannot be done due to politics. I also find their argument to be specious, because it is quite possibly because of election year politics that there is now, in fact, political space to perhaps solve some of our nation’s most pressing and difficult immigration problems.
I would like to suggest that everyone should reserve judgment on this issue until the Republicans have had an opportunity to roll their ideas out for public consideration. I note that the actual DREAMers have, for the most part, advocated a cautious yet optimistic approach. The Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform coalition has been quietly working across party lines for almost two years with members of the Senate, the House, the Administration, and their staffs, to seek some kind of compromise legislation that would allow the DREAM Act to become the law of the land. Our goal – which is based on the moral, ethical, and Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded - is to allow the worthy young men and women that can qualify for DREAM Act eligibility to have an opportunity to emerge from the shadows of society, and to participate in their own American dreams.


Immigration detention is no ‘holiday’

In his recent op-ed, “Alleged illegal and criminal immigrants should not be taxpayer-supported guests,” Rep. Lamar Smith gets several things wrong.  While attacking the newest detention facility opened by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Rep. Smith complains that the facility’s cost was “[over] $30 million taxpayer dollars.”

To quote Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Rep. Smith’s claim is completely false. The $32 million facility was built at the expense of the Geo Group, Inc., a private prison company that no doubt expects to make a profit on the venture. The facility, with grim bunk beds eight to a room and prison-like walls is far from plush (to see pictures, click here). The actual cost to taxpayers of holding detainees at this facility is about half as much, on average, as at other facilities. The truth is this facility actually saves taxpayer money.

Rep. Smith has been wrong on this point before. At Wednesday’s Immigration Subcommittee detention standards hearing derisively entitled, “Holiday on ICE,” Rep. Smith made this claim even though his own witness testified correctly that taxpayers did not fund the construction.


Counterfeit medicine threat knocking on America’s doors

Just last month, the Food and Drug Administration announced that fake cancer medicines had been shipped to American oncologists from foreign sources. This should serve as a wake-up call that we must not rest on our laurels; rather, we must continue to focus on effective policy solutions that can help prevent the worldwide counterfeit medicine threat from seeping into our borders and contaminating the closed U.S. drug supply system.
Since this particular incident, there has been an outcry by members of Congress and the public alike to do more to protect patients, and rightly so. With up to 30 percent of medicines in some developing countries counterfeit, it is critical that we grab the bull by its horns and take meaningful steps forward in safeguarding our nation from this threat.   


Nuclear Weapons policy: It’s 2012, not 1992

From speeches by Rep. Turner (R-Ohio), to an op-ed by former White House staff in these pages, the debate over U.S. nuclear policy appears to be heating up. Recent weeks have seen a concerted effort to portray the ongoing Pentagon review of our nuclear deterrence stance – how many warheads, deployed against what threats, how best safeguarded – as putting the nation’s security at risk, or even “dangerous.”

As a former White House speechwriter myself, I was pleased and bemused to see my counterparts from the George H.W. Bush administration calling attention to nuclear issues. Their rhetoric is tremendous -- but as policy, it is simply wrong. Bipartisan military leaders and security experts say – and have said for years – that we can maintain our security at levels even lower than what’s under consideration. 

We can make changes to our force posture – how we deploy our weapons – that would increase our own security and that of our allies. And in an era where our greatest security challenges are not nuclear superpower rivals, and where every defense dollar is under close scrutiny, the Pentagon itself has higher priorities.


A reckless gamble

One of the most consequential issues of our times is passing with only sporadic notice by Capitol Hill.

That issue: If the Obama administration follows through on its recently advertized intention to slash the already greatly reduced U.S. nuclear deterrent, it will put the physical security of the United States and our allies at risk.

The ink had barely dried on the recently ratified New START Treaty, set to cut U.S. nuclear forces to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, before the administration announced it is considering further reducing U.S. nuclear forces to fewer than 1,100 strategic nuclear weapons in ranges of 700 to 800 or as low as 300 to 400 weapons. While the administration might opt for the higher ranges, if it is managing expectations any of these options will take the U.S. down a very dangerous path, for ten reasons.