Eric Cantor

Use the Cantor Shellacking to Reverse Course on USA Freedumber

Eric Cantor, who famously held up earthquake relief to his own district on Paygo rules, got his ass handed to him last night by Tea Party candidate Dave Brat.

And while my impression is Cantor lost because of that kind of disdain for his constituents, it is in fact the case that 1) Cantor was a key player in watering down and then passing the USA Freedumber Act and 2) Brat campaigned on an anti-surveillance platform. Which means pundits are already reading Cantor’s defeat as a loss for the NSA.

But it’s only a loss if it leads to the defeat of USA Freedumber, one of the last bills Cantor shepherded through the House before his shellacking.

So I think the privacy community should use it as an opportunity to do what it should have done as soon as USA Freedumb got watered down into USA Freedumber: loudly declare that Jim Sensenbrenner reneged on the deal made in the USA Freedumb Act and that the legislative effort needs to be reset.

I say that because right now the privacy community has lost all its leverage in this process by not loudly coming out against USA Freedumber after Cantor watered it down, by not rallying the privacy community on solid principles. Sure, doing so doesn’t help in the House, where significant damage has already been done. But doing so may be one of the few things that would restore the credibility of the institutional players and restore some kind of unity to the effort.

Time to Fund Fat Al Gore Relief Like We Should Have Funded Iraq, Afghan Wars

Peter King, House Republican, called today for New Yorkers to stop funding House Republicans because they refused to pass a Sandy relief bill last night.

“These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they’re out raising millions of dollars,” King said on Fox News. “They’re in New York all the time filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers. I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.”

King also said he was ready to buck Republican leaders on every issue until the Sandy aid is approved.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m on my own,” King said. “They’re going to have to go a long way to get my vote on anything.”

There’s a lot of choice things to say about what this signals for the GOP and King.

But rather indulge myself in that, I’d like to draw a larger lesson from it.

It is time to start funding relief for climate change related disasters ahead of time–for all the  reasons we should have always funded the Afghan and Iraq Wars through the budget rather than supplemental funding.

We need to start setting aside realistic relief funds–say $100 billion a year–to deal with these disasters, because if we don’t, these supplementals will become yet more hostage situations for the GOP. After all, while it was probably a fracking-related disaster rather than a climate change one, Eric Cantor held his own constituents hostage when they needed funds after the earthquake in his district. If Cantor will hold them hostage (and they’ll continue to reelect him), then they’ll hold anyone hostage. And if a city as big and vital as NYC can get held hostage, then the towns that extreme weather are wiping off the map in Arkansas and Alabama will surely be hostages, too.

We can’t let increasingly frequent not-quite-so-natural disasters be serial opportunities for Republicans to gut government.

Furthermore, until we start budgeting climate change relief as such, we’ll never start accounting for how much we’re already paying because of climate change. We’ll never adequately balance whatever benefits come from–say–Shell drilling in the Arctic or KXL pipeline transit of the US if, as we did with the Iraq War, we simply don’t treat relief for climate victims as a real cost, one we’re going to have to pay year after year in increasing amounts.

Democrats are very happy to harp on Bush’s wars, which were treated as but never really were free. But the government’s commitment to drilling over better approaches to energy in the face of climate change–along with a failure to fund the obvious outcome of that drilling–is no less foolish.

Petraeus Rules

While the Beltway is slowly coming around to the logic that it’s not a good thing if the CIA Director has a pseudonymous Gmail account he uses to conduct an affair, it has yet to consider some other factors that may have forced David Petraeus to quit.

As a threshold matter, it appears that both Petraeus and Paula Broadwell did things that have gotten others–people like Thomas Drake–prosecuted and stripped of their security clearance. Obama can’t continue his war on leakers if he goes easy on Petraeus after compromising his own email account. In addition, it appears that as the FBI closed in on Petraeus, he and Broadwell may have pushed back by revealing (or claiming) CIA had prisoners in Benghazi. That is, in some way Petraeus and Broadwell’s response to the investigation appears to have colored how they treated the Benghazi pushback going on at precisely the same time.

Here’s a decent timeline of Petraeus’ demise (though many of these details–from the start date of the affair, the investigation, and Petraeus’ FBI interview have been reported using different dates, suggesting different anonymous stories may be offering different timelines). I’d like to concentrate on the following, which include a few additions.

[Week of, possibly day of] October 21 [alternately reported as September]: Paula Broadwell first interviewed by FBI. She agrees to turn over her computer, which will lead to the FBI finding classified information on it.

October 24 (written the day before): Petreaus applauds the guilty plea of John Kiriakou, who passed the identity of torturers to lawyers representing Gitmo detainees who have been tortured. Those lawyers have clearance, and they did not publicly reveal the most sensitive name. In his second-to-last statement as CIA Director, he writes,

This case yielded the first IIPA successful prosecution in 27 years, and it marks an important victory for our Agency, for our Intelligence Community, and for our country.  Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

October 24: Benghazi suspect killed in Cairo.

October 26: Fox reports that CIA security in annex were twice told to stand down by “CIA chain of command.”

October 26: At an appearance at DU, Paula Broadwell says,

Now, I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually, um, had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that’s still being vetted.

The challenging thing for General Petraeus is that in his new position, he’s not allowed to communicate with the press. So he’s known all of this — they had correspondence with the CIA station chief in, in Libya. Within 24 hours they kind of knew what was happening.

Update: See this post, which makes it clear Fox had the detail about prisoners but then took it out.

October 27: Petraeus and Broadwell hobnobbing at black tie event.

October 29: FBI interviews Petraeus.

October 31: Acting after speaking to FBI “whistleblower,” Eric Cantor’s Chief of Staff calls Robert Mueller about investigation.

October 31- November 1: Petraeus in Cairo for security discussions.

November 2 [based on a briefing held November 1 while Petraeus was still in Cairo]: CIA releases timeline rebutting Fox report–mentioned by Broadwell–that CIA chain of command told security to stand down.

November 2: FBI interviews Broadwell a second time.

November 2: Scott Shane writes odd article on demise of Petraeus’ image, blaming his absence from media for Benghazi blowback, in part repeating a point made by Broadwell on October 26. Continue reading

Why Would a Whistleblower Go to Eric Cantor?

The NYT reports that in late October, a “whistleblower” approached Eric Cantor to tell him about Petraeus’ affair.

Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, said Saturday an F.B.I. employee whom his staff described as a whistle-blower told him about Mr. Petraeus’s affair and a possible security breach in late October, which was after the investigation had begun.

“I was contacted by an F.B.I. employee concerned that sensitive, classified information may have been compromised and made certain Director Mueller was aware of these serious allegations and the potential risk to our national security,” Mr. Cantor said in a statement.

Mr. Cantor talked to the person after being told by Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, that a whistle-blower wanted to speak to someone in the Congressional leadership about a national security concern. On Oct. 31, his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, called the F.B.I. to tell them about the call.

“They took the information,” said Doug Heye, Mr. Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, “and gave the standard answer: they were not able to confirm or deny any investigation, but said that all necessary steps were being taken to make sure no confidential information was at risk.” [my emphasis]

Note Cantor describes this person as an “FBI employee,” not an agent (though he may be deliberately vague to hide the person’s identity), so it’s possible this person is more senior. The person went first to Dave Reichert, who–as a Representative from Seattle–has no ties to the FBI offices that conducted the investigation (though he’s a former Sheriff and may have ties to the FBI through law enforcement channels). And then he asked to talk to someone “in Congressional leadership,” rather than, say, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith, who has jurisdiction over the FBI, or Mike Rogers, himself a former FBI Agent and the head of the House Intelligence Committee.

In other words, this instance of whistleblower was not conducted as it normally would be, through the appropriate committees, but instead went to the guy whose job is primarily political, leading the Republican caucus.

Note the timing, too. Petraeus was interviewed around October 25-26. Given that Cantor’s Chief of Staff called Mueller after that, it appears the FBI person probably contacted Cantor after that interview–or certainly after it got scheduled. One thing’s certain: the interview could not have been a CYA effort after Mueller got the call from Cantor.

But it may be what Dianne Feinstein called a “additional complication” today. And it’s possible James Clapper finally got informed of the investigation into Petraeus–he says, on November 6, election day–because Mueller knew that Cantor had heard of it. That is, by alerting Cantor, this “whistleblower” may have ensured the national security establishment couldn’t protect Petraeus.

One more note about the timing. The interview–and this alert to Cantor–happened after the time the GOP was going full October Surprise mode on Benghazi. There were tensions between CIA and FBI because CIA had not shared video fo the attack with investigators. Again, there’s no reason to believe this is Benghazi related. But there were certainly institutional tensions playing out just as the FBI interviewed the head of the CIA about his mistress’ access of his email.

Update: Apparently Andrea Mitchell says the FBI investigation would have ended had this not been brought to Cantor.

Bishop Lori Took the Pig Right Out of Eric Cantor’s Mouth

Along with the ridiculous visuals, one of the most amazing parts of today’s hearing in which a bunch of men explained why birth control was a threat to their First Amendment rights was the statement of Bishop William Lori.

In it, he drew an analogy between birth control and pig flesh.

For my testimony today, I would like to tell a story. Let’s call it, “The Parable of the Kosher Deli.”
Once upon a time, a new law is proposed, so that any business that serves food must serve pork. There is a narrow exception for kosher catering halls attached to synagogues, since they serve mostly members of that synagogue, but kosher delicatessens are still subject to the mandate.

The Orthodox Jewish community—whose members run kosher delis and many other restaurants and grocers besides—expresses its outrage at the new government mandate. And they are joined by others who have no problem eating pork—not just the many Jews who eat pork, but people of all faiths—because these others recognize the threat to the principle of religious liberty. They recognize as well the practical impact of the damage to that principle.

They know that, if the mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their unpopular beliefs.

Meanwhile, those who support the mandate respond, “But pork is good for you. It is, after all, the other white meat.”

Other supporters add, “So many Jews eat pork, and those who don’t should just get with the times.” Still others say, “Those Orthodox are just trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else.”

But Bishop Lori wasn’t the first person to make that porcine analogy. Eric Cantor made it on February 9.

President Obama’s HHS regulation violates religious freedom.  It is like forcing a kosher deli to sell pork chops.  #NotKosher

I find it pretty unclean to have a the words of the Jewish politician being voiced by the purported Catholic holy man, like mixing milk and meat.

I mean if Bishop Lori’s parables are just regurgitated Republican talking points–if Bishop Lori’s feigned interfaith concern is just a script borrowed by the his party hosts–then what does that say for Lori’s claim to espouse Catholic dogma more generally?

So Much for the Apolitical Fed

The claim that the Federal Reserve is insulated from politics has always been a farce. Greenspan did a number of ideologically inconsistent things that just happened to help Republicans. And given that the banks run the Fed, it would be impossible to say it is isolated from the politics of the MOTUs (which is increasingly the politics of Congress, anyway).

Nevertheless, when a transpartisan group threatened to require Fed audits during the Dodd-Frank debates, people on both sides of the aisle objected because it would politicize the Fed.

No such worries for the top four Republicans, I guess.

Dear Chairman Bernanke,

It is our understanding that the Board Members of the Federal Reserve will meet later this week to consider additional monetary stimulus proposals. We write to express our reservations about any such measures. Respectfully, we submit that the board should resist further extraordinary intervention in the U.S. economy, particularly without a clear articulation of the goals of such a policy, direction for success, ample data proving a case for economic action and quantifiable benefits to the American people.

It is not clear that the recent round of quantitative easing undertaken by the Federal Reserve has facilitated economic growth or reduced the unemployment rate. To the contrary, there has been significant concern expressed by Federal Reserve Board Members, academics, business leaders, Members of Congress and the public. Although the goal of quantitative easing was, in part, to stabilize the price level against deflationary fears, the Federal Reserve’s actions have likely led to more fluctuations and uncertainty in our already weak economy.

We have serious concerns that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the U.S. economy. Such steps may erode the already weakened U.S. dollar or promote more borrowing by overleveraged consumers. To date, we have seen no evidence that further monetary stimulus will create jobs or provide a sustainable path towards economic recovery.

Ultimately, the American economy is driven by the confidence of consumers and investors and the innovations of its workers. The American people have reason to be skeptical of the Federal Reserve vastly increasing its role in the economy if measurable outcomes cannot be demonstrated.

We respectfully request that a copy of this letter be shared with each Member of the Board.

Sincerely,

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Rep. John Boehner, Sen. Jon Kyl, Rep. Eric Cantor

Especially nice is that McConnell’s signature is first. You know, the guy who has said his single most important goal is to make Obama a one-term President?

To be fair, there are reasons to oppose QE3, which is the most likely form any Fed intervention would take. Masaccio described last year, for example, how it hurts savers. So it’s not that I’m sure QE3 would do anything but goose the stock market. But I am shocked that more people aren’t objecting to this naked political ploy.

Further, these Republicans pretend that the Fed doesn’t already have a clear mandate to do something about the economy. Mind you, the Fed has mostly forgotten itself that, in addition to “maintaining stable prices” it is supposed to achieve maximum employment. But it is part of its charter to pursue policies that will bring unemployment down from 10%.

That seems to be precisely what the Republican leadership is trying to prevent.

These boys have blatantly broken one of the rules of the Village, which is that it at least pretend that politics is not directing the Fed. Thus far, though, the Village wailers have not yet commented on it.

Update: Now that I note the coincidence, I wonder whether Lamar Alexander’s letter announcing he was stepping down from his leadership position–sent the same day as the leadership letter to Bernanke–is more than a coincidence. After all, the decision amounted to an admission that Republican partisanship was impeding actual useful policy. His letter focused on the Senate, mind you, not on inappropriate interventions in the Fed. Still, I wonder whether this was a factor?

Maybe Iraq Should Just Replace Idaho as Our 50th State

Back when Tony Fratto was arguing that we should shut down post offices because he uses the InterToobz and therefore only ventures into an actual post office once a year, I noted that we would effectively be kicking huge portions of our rural areas out of our country if we presumed everyone could replace the postal service with broadband, as the map here makes clear.

The NYT has a story focusing on one of the places Fratto is apparently willing to lose as part of this country: Idaho, which just got rated as the state with the worst broadband access. The story starts with an anecdote of how bears brought down a manufacturing company’s broadband. But I was particularly struck by this quote.

“We have a guy here who was dropped into remote, isolated areas of Iraq to set up their telecommunications systems,” said Christine L. Frei, director of the Clearwater Economic Development Association in Lewiston. “He told me, ‘We had better communications in Iraq than you have in central Idaho.’ ”

So Iraq can have broadband, but not ID. And Pocatello, ID, the city with the worst download speeds in the nation, stands to lose one of its post offices, as do 22 other cities in the state. Maybe they can just replace the postal workers with bears…

Meanwhile, it’s not just postal services that Republicans would rather build in Iraq than in Idaho. All those Republicans refusing to fund schools and infrastructure to create jobs were happy to use deficit spending to do so in Iraq and Afganistan.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) voted for over $120 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, funds that were used to construct and repair schools, roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure.

Now, Cantor is opposing President Obama’s proposal to spend $30 billion to modernize 35,000 American schools. Reuters has the story:

U.S. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said on Monday he will not support President Barack Obama’s proposal to renovate U.S. schools as part of the administration’s bill to spur job growth.

He added that Obama should focus instead on cutting federal regulations that he says kill U.S. jobs…

The president’s proposal is a modest effort. The total maintenance and repair backlog at U.S. schools is estimated at $270 billion to $500 billion. While the funding Obama is proposing is fully offset, Cantor voted to build schools in Iraq and Afghanistan with deficit spending.

These things–schools and highways and post offices–are what make us a country, a country that includes cities and suburbs and rural areas. But Republicans think we can’t or don’t need to afford to be a country anymore.

Republicans are literally choosing to fund our empire over our own country. I guess that makes it clear where their priorities lie.

Eric Cantor’s Nuclear Failure

As I noted last week, the VA earthquake last week happened in Eric Cantor’s district, just miles from a nuclear power plant. I reported then that the plant had lost power and switched to backup diesel generators.

But it turns out that switchover didn’t happen without a hitch. One of four generators failed to start.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission initially reported that the plant’s emergency safeguards worked just fine as diesel generators automatically kicked in to keep nuclear rods and spent fuel safe in storage facilities and cool water ponds.

But it did not happen without a minor snag.

According to the incident report published hours after the quake, one of North Anna’s four power generators didn’t start properly, as it had been designed to. It was taken off line, and power from another generator off site was routed through to make the system fully operational. Following inspections of the facility and its sensitive parts, both reactors were brought back online.

Perhaps this is why they sent all non-emergency personnel home from the plant.

Now, it turns out that Eric Cantor is just as interested in using a potential disaster affecting his own constituents as an excuse to cut government as he was with the residents of Joplin, MO. As he did when a tornado wiped out Joplin, Cantor insisted that any federal aid be tied to cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

“There is an appropriate federal role in incidents like this,” the Republican said after touring the damage in his district. “Obviously, the problem is that people in Virginia don’t have earthquake insurance.”

The next step will be for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to decide whether to make an appeal for federal aid, Cantor said. The House Majority Leader would support such an effort but would look to offset the cost elsewhere in the federal budget.

“All of us know that the federal government is busy spending money it doesn’t have,” Cantor said in Culpeper, where the quake damaged some buildings along a busy shopping thoroughfare.

Who knows what will get cut? USGS, as Cantor backed doing earlier this year? Emergency warning systems? Inspections to ensure that nuclear plant backup generators work properly in case of an emergency (and after Fukushima, how is it that those inspections haven’t already been done)?

Eventually, though, between refusing to keep up America’s infrastructure and cutting the things that help keep Eric Cantor’s constituents safe, Cantor’s anti-government radicalism will eventually lead to a preventable disaster.

CantorQuake: Trembling at the Heart of GOP Claims We Don’t Need Government

Back in March, after the Japanese earthquake, Eric Cantor defended Republican plans to cut funding from the USGS and warning systems to help in case of a disaster.

This is the epicenter of the freak 5.9 Richter earthquake that just hit Virginia.

Here’s the location of the Anna 1 and 2 nuclear power plants, which lost power and are now operating on diesel backup generators. Power has now been restored.

And here’s a partial map of Eric Cantor’s district. (h/t lpsrocks)

Update: Maps and Anna plant news updated. Text removed.

Update: The NRC apparently ranks this nuclear power plant as the 7th most likely to be hit by an earthquake.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ranked the earthquake damage risk at all 104 nuclear power plants in this country. The pair operated by Dominion Power, at Lake Anna in eastern Louisa County, come in at 7th most ‘at risk’ on the list.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, North Anna 1 and 2 face an annual 1 in 22,727 chance of the core being damaged by an earthquake and exposing the public to radiation.

Update: Apparently, budget cuts in the 1990s led to the removal of seismic equipment at the North Anna plant. (h/t Kirk)

The Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory (VTSO) is one of the primary sources for data on seismic activity in the central East Coast.  In 1963, as part of the worldwide program, seismographs were installed at Blacksburg, and in 1977 several more seismographs were stationed in the Commonwealth and operated by the Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources.  Some of these instruments were stationed around the North Anna Nuclear Power plant, but in the 1990’s, due to budget cuts, most of the North Anna sensors were taken off line.  Along with other southeastern regional seismic networks and the U.S. National Seismic Network, VTSO contributes to seismic hazard assessment in the southeastern United States and compiles a Southeastern U.S. Earthquake Catalog.

Cantor was in VA’s House of Delegates from 1992 to 2001, so there’s a decent chance he had a part in those budget cuts.

Update: Bob Alvarez at POGO provides some detail on the North Anna plant.

According to a representative of Dominion Power, the two reactors were designed to withstand a  5.9-6.1 quake.

[snip]

The North Anna reactors are of the Westinghouse Pressurized Water design and went on line in 1979 and 1980 respectively. Since then the reactors have generated approximately 1,200 metric tons of nuclear spent fuel containing about 228,000 curies of highly radioactive materials—among the largest concentrations of radioactivity in the United States.

Nearly 40 percent of the radioactivity in the North Anna spent fuel pools is cesium-137—a long-lived radioisotope that gives off potentially dangerous penetrating radiation and also accumulates in food over a period of centuries. The North Anna Pools hold about 15-30 times more Cs-137 than was released by the Chernobyl accident in 1986. In 2003, IPS helped lead a study warning that drainage of a pool might cause a catastrophic radiation fire, which could render an area uninhabitable greater than that created by the Chernobyl accident.

The spent fuel pools at North Anna contain 4-5 times more than their original designs intended. As in Japan, all U.S. power nuclear power plant spent fuel pools do not have steel lined, concrete barriers that cover reactor vessels to prevent the escape of radioactivity.

In 1,200 Word Profile on Eric Cantor, WaPo Neglects to Mention His Bet against the US

So the WaPo did a 1200-word profile on Eric Cantor’s central role in debt ceiling negotiations. And somehow they never get around to mentioning that Cantor has a bet placed against US Treasuries.

Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip in the House of Representatives, bought up to $15,000 in shares of ProShares Trust Ultrashort 20+ Year Treasury ETF last December, according to his 2009 financial disclosure statement. The exchange-traded fund takes a short position in long-dated government bonds. In effect, it is a bet against U.S. government bonds—and perhaps on inflation in the future.

You’d think that’d be the sort of thing worth mentioning.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @gracels @benjaminwittes @wellsbennett You will probably want to match that with a "Lawfare Drone Smackdown" sweatshirt.
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bmaz RT @jeremyscahill: This is a significant point that @emptywheel is highlighting about decision to drone kill US citizen: https://t.co/h7WWK
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bmaz @gracels @benjaminwittes @wellsbennett No no, this is freaking awesome.
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emptywheel All: My post on Awlaki is incorrect, as updated. https://t.co/gHpcG7CX6C McMahon discussing a 2/19/10 memo that has already been released
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emptywheel .@jeremyscahill Yeah, it is the 2/19/10 memo. I'm wrong.
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bmaz @lawfareblog @OrinKerr @granick Wait, I would buy a ticket for this!
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emptywheel @jeremyscahill Sorry: 2/19/10 memo.
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emptywheel @jeremyscahill Updated w/another possibility: that she was talking abt 2/29/10 one released in August. Her timing'd be off but might be true
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