Last week, I pointed to a problem with Jonathan Chait’s defense of Hillary Clinton’s “pluralistic” approach to governance, noting that in an era of weak labor organization, such an approach leaves out the views of the great majority of working people, precisely the kinds of people Bernie Sanders is attracting.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but since got reminded of an important paper by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, released in 2014. It used a dataset matching polling data to policy outcomes to test four theories for how our political system works: Majoritarian Democracy (meaning policies adopted reflect what most people want), Dominance by Economic Elites (meaning the rich get what they want), Majoritarian Pluralism (meaning interest groups, including those that represent the non-wealthy, get what they want), and Biased Pluralism (meaning interest groups that represent the views of the economic elite get what they want).
Ultimately, the paper showed that our system provides what interest groups want, not what the majority want. Importantly, it also noted that the interest groups that have influence don’t actually represent the preferences of the average citizen (which is defined to be policies supported by a median income voter).
But net interest-group stands are not substantially correlated with the preferences of average citizens. Taking all interest groups together, the index of net interest-group alignment correlates only a non-significant .04 with average citizens’ preferences!
It explains this, in part, because there are so many more interest groups (which include corporations) representing the interests of the economic elite that ultimately they’ll guide policy even when including those interest groups representing the interests of the non-elite.
As a result, majoritarian views — what most Americans want — have almost no influence on policy.
The estimated impact of average citizens’ preferences drops precipitously, to a non-significant, near-zero level. Clearly the median citizen or “median voter” at the heart of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy does not do well when put up against economic elites and organized interest groups. The chief predictions of pure theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy can be decisively rejected. Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.
When the majority gets what they want, it is because the elite interest groups favor the same policy, not because anyone is responding to the interests of the average voter.
Finally, the paper further shows that that is even more true when the majority wants change.
A final point: Even in a bivariate, descriptive sense, our evidence indicates that the responsiveness of the U.S. political system when the general public wants government action is severely limited. Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system—federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism—together with further impediments due to anti-majoritarian congressional rules and procedures, the system has a substantial status quo bias. Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo, opposing a given policy change, they are likely to get their way; but when a majority—even a very large majority—of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants.
So it’s one thing if the majority wants things to remain the same, when they might get what they want, but another thing if they’d like to change the status quo, when they almost never will.
I raise all this because it provides an important reminder for this year’s bizarre presidential election. At least on the Democratic side, the findings totally reinforce both candidates. Bernie Sanders is absolutely right that the system is rigged, that the government’s policies don’t reflect the interests of average Americans. But Hillary Clinton is right, too, that the way to get things done in DC — or at least the way that things have gotten done in DC — is to negotiate compromises within the existing interest group structure (which includes a nearly impotent labor movement and overly powerful corporations). She’s even probably right that in the current system you need to co-opt a certain number of economic elite interest groups (that is, largely, corporate groups) to be able to acquire the critical mass of support from interest groups to get a policy adopted. You’ve got to make enough Goldman Sachs speeches to get them to the table, Hillary might excuse her boondoggle speeches.
But that also has certain implications for the policy debate going on. One problem Hillary is having is in needing to champion — to legitimize — the compromises made within that system: notably, Dodd-Frank and Obama’s insurance reform. She’s doing that by suggesting, with the help of wonk-boys like Chait, that the compromises made in those legislative processes were all that were possible at the time. As I hope to lay out, not only the record — but specific actions by those who remain a part of the Hillary entourage — disprove that claim, at least in theory: 2009 was the rare year when that might not have been true. In addition, Hillary’s choice to function within the existing pluralist system also all presumes that the existing set of interest groups, with the nearly impotent labor movement and overly powerful corporations, are a fixed set.
Which brings us back to Bernie’s call for a revolution, which we might think of as providing average people some means of being an interest group again. Whatever else it is, it could become (unlike the Dean organization that became the 50 state strategy and Obama for America that became a messaging organization within a neutered DNC) a resilient interest group. In many ways, it is a more institutionalized and better funded reincarnation of some recent protest groups, with a very strong overlap with Occupy Wall Street, and as such might have staying power, regardless of what happens with the primary.
But that brings us back to the other problem Hillary (as well as the institutional candidates on the Republican side) is having: voters aren’t dummies.
While you can defend the claim that Obama’s insurance reform was all that was possible, that doesn’t mean — even with the many benefits it has brought about — that it was a sound compromise, much less policy that served the interest of the majority or the country as a whole. Similarly, while you can claim (even more dubiously) that foaming the runway to give the banks a soft landing was necessary, real Americans know we all would be better off with Lloyd Blankfein in prison. That is, you can claim that interest group policies are all we can get, but at that same time that means that interest group policies don’t self-evidently serve the interests of Americans. Hillary can’t admit that, but that’s the truth confirmed in Gilens and Page. It’s also the reason why the wonk-boys are working so hard to claim that these policies serve the good of most people, to try to refute the obvious ways they don’t.
Hillary may well win (the primary, at least) based on truthfully claiming she represents the continuation of Obama’s policies, as Greg Sargent argued yesterday.
Beyond this, the big picture here is that Sanders has gotten as far as he has by offering up a serious, if partial, indictment of the Obama years. He is arguing that Obama era reforms — Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, his climate agenda — ended up being woefully inadequate to the scale of our challenges, because he failed to sufficiently rally the grassroots against the power of the oligarchy and because the Democratic establishment still remains in thrall to oligarchic money. Clinton full-throatedly defends Obama’s accomplishments as very much worth preserving, rejects the Sanders-promulgated notion that Obama could have gotten a whole lot more than he did, and vows to build on those achievements.
The bigger, more diverse, more moderate electorates in the contests to come might be more receptive to Clinton’s arguments along these lines. And one thing to watch will be whether Sanders tries to find a way to temper the criticism of the Obama years that is laced through the story he is telling.
I’d temper that and note that Bernie is probably closer to the real foreign policy successes of Obama’s post-Hillary term, including opening relations with Iran and Cuba and demanding that the Saudis actually start fighting ISIL. But on the Obama policies that are most obviously the result of letting interest groups, from the impotent labor movement to the overly powerful corporations, direct policy, Hillary is the inheritor of a historically fairly popular legacy. That’s true, and it may well be enough, barring any unforeseen economic reversals, though economic reversals are actually looking pretty likely, in which case that legacy may be of far less value.
The problem with being in that very advantageous position is that, especially this year, voters are all too aware that those policies didn’t necessarily serve their needs. And that, it seems, explains the disjuncture between Hillary’s claim (true or not) to best be able to negotiate the interest groups of DC and the fact that that hasn’t been enough to convince voters.
As I’ve noted repeatedly, when independent tests first publicized that decisions made by Governor Snyder’s hand-picked Emergency Manager were poisoning Flint’s children last October, he made a show of response, but it wasn’t until the Task Force he appointed laid into his Department of Environmental Quality and Detroit’s US Attorney revealed it was investigating the problem that Snyder ratcheted up his effort to appear to be responding.
But his actions since then have largely been an attempt to stall for time, presumably a hope that anti-corrosives in Flint’s pipes will bring lead levels down so that we can all move on and forget about it. True, he did get the state legislature to cough up $28 million, which will go to ramping up state agency involvement. He has asked for $30 million to alleviate some, but not all, of Flint residents’ water bills so they’re not paying for water they can’t use, but it’s not clear the legislature will fund it (and it’s just partial relief in any case).
But at the same time, he has asked for bigger funding chunks from the Federal government: $96 million under disaster funding for things including replacing a fraction of the lead pipes in the city, and the expansion of funding for WIC funding for Flint’s children until they’re 10 (which would have improved nutritional support for kids at risk of lead poisoning). The Feds denied both those requests. Snyder and the Republicans are now blaming Obama for denying these requests. Understand: Obama’s administration could only had approved them by violating the terms of these programs set by Congress. Snyder asked for something that, under the law, Obama could not give, and now Snyder is using that denial to try to pawn off responsibility onto Obama, rather than the appointed managers who created this mess and ignored it for over a year.
That leaves the lead pipes in the ground, still leaching toxic levels of lead four months after anti-corrosives were first added to the water to try to reverse the corrosion. Some houses in Flint still have so much lead in the water that filters cannot be trusted to remove the poison.
Michigan’s Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, tried to get $600 million added to a bipartisan energy bill to start the work of actually replacing those pipes. But even revising that request down to $200 million didn’t work, so Democrats filibustered the bill.
That was Thursday.
Hours later, during the debate, Hillary announced she’d do an appearance in Flint today, which ended a few hours ago.
I will be in Flint at the Mayor’s invitation on Sunday to get an in depth briefing about what is, and is not happening.
This is an emergency. Everyday that goes by that these people, particularly the children, are not tested so we can know what steps must be taken to try to remediate the effects of the poisoning that they have been living with is a day lost in a child’s life. I know from the work that I’ve done over so many years, lead, the toxic nature of lead can affect you brain development, your body development, your behavior.
I absolutely believe that what is being done is not sufficient. We need to be absolutely clear about everything that should be done from today to tomorrow, into the future to try to remedy the terrible burden that the people of Flint are bearing. That includes fixing their pipes, it includes guaranteeing whatever healthcare and educational embellishments they may need going forward, and I think the federal government has way where it can bill the state of Michigan. If Michigan won’t do it, there have to be ways that we can begin to move, and then make them pay for it, and hold them accountable.
Her appearance (which drew no national coverage) had some strong points: She reminded she had worked on lead (paint) issues in New York, she noted that many other cities are suffering from similar problems, she called to get Flint people working to replace the pipes.
She brought up the $200 million Democratic Senators are currently demanding.
Therein lies the rub.
I’m completely agnostic about whether this particular trip will hurt or help (it’s very clear that Hillary’s focus on Flint two debates ago helped draw attention, though of course that came months after the lead poisoning was first revealed in October).
It could be that next week Democrats in the Senate will be able to get Republicans to relent to their demand for Flint funding. But it could also be that Republicans will dig in, given that denying Flint funding becomes a way to deprive the presumptive Democratic nominee a win. That’s true, especially since John Cornyn already accused Democrats of trying to embarrass Republicans on this issue.
Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas called the Democrats’ sudden rejection of what had been bipartisan support for the energy bill “gamesmanship” and an effort to “embarrass Republicans” by making it seem they did not care about Flint.
He said state officials are trying to figure out how much a full infrastructure repair program in the city might cost — an estimate is expected next week — and to authorize full funding before that was “putting the cart before the horse.”
“The State of Michigan and the City of Flint don’t know what they need to do to fix the problem or how much it will cost,” Cornyn said. “The senators form Michigan come in here and say we don’t need to know … we want cash.”
It seems Republicans are stalling, hoping this will fade from view before some Republican legislature — either Federal or state — ends up funding a needed infrastructure program which will not only fix the water problem, but provide a Keynesian boost to a city Republicans would like to cure with more austerity. As months go on, this year’s Presidential and next year’s gubernatorial election will exert pressure of some sort. It may well be that Hillary can use her focus on Flint to showcase a call for more infrastructure funding that will tip some elections. It may also be that the prospect of Hillary on the ballot in November exerts pressure downticket on Republicans.
But for the moment, this seems like uncertain political gamesmanship that could leave Flint residents drinking from plastic bottles for months to come.
Update: I meant to include this quote from a Flint resident, which encapsulates my concern.
“It’s bad news to me,” said Arthur Woodson, a 46-year-old Army veteran who runs New Beginnings, a Flint-based nonprofit aimed at helping soldiers return to the community. “She’s turning it into a political football. The GOP won’t ever do anything now. They’re going to turn it into a partisan thing.”
“This is a water issue,” he continued. “It’s not a political issue. We got kids who are suffering. We don’t have time for this partisan stuff.”
Update: MI Republican Chair and Mitt Romney niece Ronna Romney McDaniel is out complaining about this “calculated campaign tactic.”
Families and residents in Flint deserve better than being used as political pawns by a Presidential candidate. This visit is not an act of benevolence; it is a calculated campaign tactic – an attempt to grab headlines by a struggling campaign.
It is time to focus on solutions. As a candidate who proclaimed that the enemies she is most proud of are Republicans, I doubt that Hillary Clinton is here to contribute to the bipartisan effort to fix this crisis. The families in Flint deserve solutions, not a stunt that does nothing to help the city or the people who call it home.
The NYT has a really helpful description of the emails to Hillary that intelligence agencies are claiming are Top Secret. It explained how several of the emails almost certainly couldn’t derive from the intelligence the agency claimed they came from, such as this one on North Korea.
The fourth involved an email sent by Kurt M. Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs, shortly after a North Korean ballistic missile test in July 2009. The email has not yet been made public, even in redacted form, but the State Department has challenged an assertion from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which gathers data through satellite images, that the email included information that came from a highly classified program.
In a letter this past Dec. 15 to Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a State Department official said that the information could not have been based on N.G.A.’s intelligence because Mr. Campbell did not receive any classified intelligence briefings for what was a new job for him until a few days after the North Korean test.
I believe the NGA was dawdling on signing a sworn declaration about this email, unlike the CIA (whose Martha Lutz has signed her name to many a wacky claim).
Unsurprisingly, the NYT reports that the bulk of the emails in question pertain to the drone program, specifically in Pakistan.
The Obama administration’s decision to keep most internal discussions about that program — including all information about C.I.A. drone strikes in Pakistan — classified at the “top secret” level has now become a political liability for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Several officials said that at least one of the emails contained oblique references to C.I.A. operatives. One of the messages has been given a designation of “HCS-O” — indicating that the information was derived from human intelligence sources — a detail that was first reported by Fox News. The officials said that none of the emails mention specific names of C.I.A. officers or the spy agency’s sources.
The government officials said that discussions in an email thread about a New York Times article — the officials did not say which article — contained sensitive information about the intelligence surrounding the C.I.A.’s drone activities, particularly in Pakistan.
The officials said that at least one of the 22 emails came from Richard C. Holbrooke, who as the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan would have been intimately involved in dealing with the ramifications of drone strikes. Mr. Holbrooke died in December 2010.
Reading these passages and the article in general made me realize something: The reason the CIA is insisting these are classified is almost certainly because of the ACLU’s two FOIAs for drone information. In the Awlaki-focused one, the ACLU (and NYT) succeeded in arguing that past public statements from people like Leon Panetta constituted a waiver of the classification of the CIA’s involvement in the program. Any public dissemination of other official Administration figures discussing the drone program would provide ACLU another opportunity to go to the judges in these cases and demand further disclosure about CIA’s involvement in the drone program.
Over the years, the Obama Administration has gone to great lengths to defeat the ACLU in its various FOIAs, from having National Security Advisor Jim Jones get involved in the torture FOIA to delaying congressional oversight into the Awlaki killing. Here, it appears they’re even willing to damage Hillary’s campaign to serve as the inheritor to Obama’s legacy to thwart the ACLU.
In one of the hot-take pieces on the Democratic primary many people are talking about today, Jonathan Chait — fresh off being certified as a wonk by Paul Krugman — distinguishes between what he calls Hillary Clinton’s “pluralist” approach and Bernie Sanders’ “statist” vision.
Sanders did not so much dispute the efficacy of Dodd-Frank as to broaden the question. His fixation with Wall Street is not systemic risk — i.e., the chance that another crash will trigger an economic meltdown. He frames Wall Street as a problem of political economy, not economy. Wall Street is so big and rich that it is inherently dangerous, and will by its nature corrupt the political system.
Clinton does not believe that. Her political ideal is what some political scientists have called “pluralism.” A pluralist politics venerates the careful balancing of competing interests. It is okay to bring business to the bargaining table as long as there is also a place for labor, environmentalists, consumer advocates, and other countervailing interests. Clinton’s Democratic Party, and Obama’s, is one in which pluralist agreements struck important progress not only in financial reform but also health care, public investment, green energy, and other priorities.
Sanders does not completely reject the products of these pluralist compromises. (He grudgingly accepts them as worthwhile, piecemeal steps.) What he rejects is the political model that treats pluralism as the normal model of political action. Sanders believes the interest of the public is not divided, it is united, and only the corrupt influence of big business has thwarted it. He consequently vows to smash its power through a combination of a mass upsurge in political activism and campaign-finance reform.
A Democratic Party as monolithically statist as the modern Republican Party is anti-government — one in which any defense of free markets or business is dismissed — would look very different than anything within American historical experience. After decades of this being taken for granted, it has finally become necessary to defend moderation as a governing creed.
Let’s ignore how Chait caricatures Sanders for the moment, warning of an awful “statist” Democratic party in which “any defense of free markets or business is dismissed,” and take his view of Hillary’s pluralism on its face.
In Hillary’s Democratic party, citizens exercise their influence through various interest groups. There’s business (presented here as a monolith), and there there’s “labor, environmentalists, consumer advocates, and other countervailing interests,” and together they compromise on incrementalist policy about which everyone gets a say.
That is, in fact, how the mainstream Democratic party organizes itself, and Hillary’s endorsement by virtually all of the organizations deemed to represent one of these players reflects it. She does have support from business, but she also has support from League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign, and other big organizations. (There’s a breathtaking list of her endorsements here — you have to scroll down quite a way to get to the institutional endorsements.) This is what that “establishment organization” hubbub was about: that Hillary has the support of the groups deemed to represent the various pluralities of the Democratic party.
On that list are most of the national labor unions. That’s not surprising. Hillary is (still) a favorite to win nomination and after that the general election, and all these organizations are ensuring they’ll have a seat at that pluralist table Hillary sets (though it’s not clear what the unions that backed Obama early in 2008 really got out of the deal; he certainly didn’t deliver the Employee Free Choice Act, as he had suggested he’d try to do). Union leaders endorse early because it ensures they’ll have the ear of the presumptive president.
Even there, as some have noted, a few unions that let members decide who to endorse endorsed Bernie.
But here’s the thing. Just 11.1% of workers were in a union last year. And to the extent that the Democratic party’s pluralism is mediated through these national organizations, it means the views of workers as such are largely represented by organizations they don’t have any stake in, organizations whose workers make 26% more than non-union workers. And we wonder why so few of these workers show up to vote for Democrats?
I asked Chait on Twitter where these more marginalized workers would get their seat at the pluralist table and thus far haven’t gotten an answer.
This question is probably most pressing with regards to the most exciting labor organizing in recent years: the SEIU-backed Fight for 15, which has found a model that works for franchises, and which has also notched a number of key local wins for a higher minimum wage. Importantly, where it succeeds in raising wages for an entire city, people within and outside of the movement structure will do better. But a lot of workers who would be incorporated at the pluralist table by a push for a living minimum wage are not and would not be SEIU members.
Fight for 15 is an issue where there’s a clear policy difference between Hillary, who favors raising the minimum wage to $12 (which is not a living wage in many areas of this country) and Bernie, who enthusiastically supports the $15 goal.
Nevertheless, SEIU endorsed Hillary. Jacobin explained the logic shortly after the endorsement.
If Clinton is going to win — because she has to win — then delaying a primary endorsement has no upside. The union would simply jeopardize its spot on Clinton’s crowded list of favors to return.
But the access argument is also unpersuasive. In 2007 the union was divided internally over whether to back John Edwards or Obama. In the end the national union allowed its state affiliates to go their separate ways, only uniting behind Obama after Edwards had dropped out after the first round of primaries. Opting not to come out early for Obama didn’t prevent the union from mobilizing members and resources for the general election. Similarly, SEIU will be indispensable to the Democratic nominee’s chances in November, so it is hard to argue that Clinton could shut the union out.
Comments from SEIU’s largest local suggest the union is perfectly happy to see Sanders pressing Clinton to take more left-leaning positions. But the labor movement still sees the election solely through the prism of its outcome — not in terms of what Sanders’s candidacy represents, or makes possible.
That narrow electoralism could end up harming Fight for 15 — not just the union’s most important campaign, but arguably the most important labor battle happening today. SEIU’s decision to provide the financial largesse for Fight for 15 comes from the indisputably correct observation that unless the labor movement can bring millions of low-wage workers into its fold, organized labor is scheduled for expiry.
Yet before the endorsement announcement, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry toldAl Jazeera that though the union is expecting “candidates up and down the ticket who are willing to get in the streets and champion this demand,” support for a $15 minimum wage is not a “litmus test” but an “aspirational demand.”
Over the last three years, SEIU has spent tens of millions of dollars and galvanized the labor movement around an inspiring fight. It has justified this enormous expenditure to its members by correctly arguing that they won’t be able to protect and improve their own standards unless something is done to boost the wages of the worst paid workers.
But if the union actually believed it could win on this issue — if it believed it could lead — then a litmus test is exactly what it would be. Clinton would just have to get in line. Members and non-members have shown that they are willing to fight for $15 and a union. What does it say to them if they now are asked to knock on doors calling for $12 and a Clinton?
That is, Hillary’s pluralist table, which leaves little space for the overwhelming majority of workers who aren’t represented by a union, had already dealt away the key policy platform the key voice pulling up to that table has pursued.
Partly that’s a testament to the desperation of unions — that they’re willing to trade their key issues even to get a seat at the table, and partly that’s a testament to the lack of representation for most workers who might sit there.
But having set the table like that, there’s little prospect the large numbers of workers who haven’t been as active in Democratic politics of late will have much sway in face of the powerful banks who don’t appear to have traded away key issues for their time with Hillary.
Notably: these lower income voters, along with the more widely noted younger voters, are precisely those whom Bernie is winning (though as the primary moves to more racially diverse states, that is expected to change).
There’s a key failing in the pluralist vision painted by Chait (even taking it on its face): even to win a seat at the table, labor — and really just that fraction of workers who enjoy union representation — had already started compromising, well before the bankers even sat down for their scotch.
And no matter how this primary ends up, that’s not something that’s sustainable, particularly not in the wake of the financial disaster that pushed so many people closer to the edge. If Clinton is going to win with a pluralist table, there needs to be, for both electoral and social justice reasons, a seat, a lot of seats, for all the workers who have fallen by the electoral wayside in recent years. Bernie has gotten their attention. What does Hillary plan to do to keep it?
In what has become a serial event, the State Department and Intelligence Community people handling Jason Leopold’s FOIA of Hillary Clinton emails have declared yet more emails to be Top Secret.
The furor over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account grew more serious for the Democratic presidential front-runner Friday as the State Department designated 22 of the messages from her account “top secret.”
It was the first time State has formally deemed any of Clinton’s emails classified at that level, reserved for information that can cause “exceptionally grave” damage to national security if disclosed.
State did not provide details on the subject of the messages, which represent seven email chains and a total of 37 pages. However, State spokesman John Kirby said they are part of a set the intelligence community inspector general told Congress contained information classified for discussing “Special Access Programs.”
Now, as I have said before, one thing that is going on here is that CIA is acting just like CIA always does when it declares publicly known things, including torture and drones, to be highly secret. It appears likely that these Top Secret emails are yet another set of emails about the worst kept secret in the history of covert programs, CIA’s drone killing in Pakistan. And so I am sympathetic, in principle, to Hillary’s campaign claims that this is much ado about nothing.
But they might do well to find some other spokesperson to claim that this is just overclassification run amok.
“This is overclassification run amok. We adamantly oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails,” campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said on Twitter. Appearing on MSNBC after the news broke, Fallon vowed to fight the decision.
“You have the intelligence community, including an Intelligence Community Inspector General, as well as the inspector general at the State Department, that have been insisting on certain ways of deciding what is classified and what’s not,” he said. “We know that there has been disagreement on these points, and it has spilled out into public view at various points over the last several months. It now appears that some of the loudest voices in this interagency review that had some of the strongest straightjacket-type opinions on what should count as classified, have prevailed. That’s unfortunate. We strongly disagree with the finding that has been reached today, and we are going to be contesting it and seeking to have these emails released.”
Alternately Hillary can declare that if she is elected, she’ll pardon both Jeffrey Sterling and Chelsea Manning.
Sterling’s prosecution for, in part, having 3 documents about dialing a rotary phone in his home that were retroactively classified Secret, happened while Brian Fallon presided over DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs; Fallon sat by as James Risen got questioned about his refusal to testify. Sterling’s retention of documents that weren’t marked Secret is surely the same kind of “overclassification run amok,” and by the same agency at fault here, that Fallon is now complaining about. So shouldn’t Fallon and Clinton be discussing a pardon for Sterling?
Then there’s Manning. As Glenn Greenwald noted, in that case Clinton had a different attitude about the sensitivity of documents classified Secret or less.
Manning was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison. At the time, the only thing Hillary Clinton had to say about that was to issue a sermon about how classified information “deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so” because it “affect[s] the security of individuals and relationships.”
So if the nation’s secrets aren’t really as secret as DOJ and State and DOD have claimed, shouldn’t these two, along with people like Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, be pardoned?
Amid Fallon and Clinton’s prior support for this level of classification, there’s something else odd about the response to this scandal (which I have said is largely misplaced from the stupid decision to run her own server to the issue of classified information).
First, the response from many supporters — and it’s a point I’ve made too — is that this doesn’t reflect on Hillary because she mostly just received these emails, she didn’t send them. That’s true. And it largely limits any legal liability Hillary herself would have.
But this particular response comes against the backdrop of Hillary attacking Bernie for not giving a foreign policy speech before Iowa (a critique I’m somewhat sympathetic with, although debates have been focused on it), and against this approving story in the Neocon press on Hillary forming a shadow cabinet.
Team Hillary is in the process of setting up formal advisory teams and working groups divided into regional and thematic subjects, similar to the structure of the National Security Council, several participants in the project told me. Unlike in 2008, when Clinton and Barack Obama competed for advisers, this time around all the Democratic foreign-policy types are flocking to her team because Clinton is the only game in town.
The groups report up to the campaign’s senior foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, who was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and director of policy planning when she was secretary of state.
As it notes, this shadow cabinet reports to Jake Sullivan. Sullivan is, according to one report, the staffer who sent the most emails that have since been declared classified.
Nearly a third of the classified messages released so far from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s emails came from one man: Jake Sullivan, who served as her deputy chief of staff in the department, and is now the top foreign policy adviser to her presidential campaign.
If Hillary’s supporters argue that she can’t be held responsible because she didn’t send these, does that mean they would hold Sullivan, Hillary’s presumptive National Security Advisor, responsible instead?
Then there’s this detail about outside advisors to this shadow cabinet: it includes Leon Panetta, who not only leaked highly classified information in his memoir, but also would have been busted for exposing the Navy SEALs who offed Osama bin Laden if the game weren’t so rigged to excuse senior leakers.
In addition to the working groups, Sullivan relies on a somewhat separate group of senior former officials who have more frequent interaction with the campaign leadership and Clinton herself. Many of these advisers aren’t publicly affiliated with the campaign because they have leadership roles with organizations that have not endorsed any candidate for president.
But sources close to the campaign told me that Clinton, Sullivan and campaign chairman John Podesta are in regular contact with former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Is the effort to keep the identities of the men who killed OBL secret also, “overclassification run amok”? Or does Panetta’s role in Hillary’s foreign policy team suggest her crowd really is that hypocritical about who can leak classified information?
I’d really love it if Hillary came out strongly against the paranoid secrecy that stifles our foreign policy (and just yesterday led to Ashkan Soltani losing a position as a technical advisor for the White House, presumably because of his role in reporting the Snowden documents).
But thus far that’s not what she’s doing: her campaign is making a limited critique of this paranoid secrecy, only applicable when it impacts those close to her.
There’s a telling paragraph in this post from Ezra Klein, one of a series of posts written lately by self-described “wonks” defending the electoral and political approach Hillary Clinton embraces.
It’s a vision that is intuitively plausible to many liberals because it resonates with their own experience. They remember being excited by the promise of Obama’s agenda and then disappointed by the compromises he made, the fights he backed away from, the deals he cut with industry. They remember being organized in 2008 and demoralized in 2010. They remember feeling like they could accomplish anything, only to be told they needed to stop hoping for so much.
The argument is that something about the first years of Obama’s Administration led people to be more realistic in their political expectations. It comes after two more paragraphs characterizing Sanders’ vision of his own break with Obama: mobilization of voters.
“The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama,” Sanders told Vox’s Andrew Prokop in 2014, “is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway. You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grassroots level in a way that we have never done before.”
This is the vision Sanders is selling in Iowa. It’s a vision that is hopeful both in its diagnosis of the problems in American politics and in its prescription. It’s a vision that says liberals were right all along, and the American people have always been with them, and it’s the corrosive influence of corporate donors that has snapped that bond and confused the country.
But Ezra then turns that vision of mobilization into something with a very short history: just back to 2008, when Obama mobilized voters to get elected but then disappointed them in 2010.
Curiously, Ezra doesn’t describe what demoralized liberals in 2010 — I’m not actually sure whether he means the final shape of the health insurance reform or the electoral losses that year (the size of which were exacerbated by the politics of the health insurance reform). That, of course, is critical to any consideration of the efficacy of pragmatism, because if making pragmatic choices ends up losing historic majorities in Congress, pragmatism will always be a loser for liberals.
But it’s the assumptions Ezra makes in the paragraph that really strike me (they seem, in part, to be based on a story Norm Scheiber wrote in 2014 about former Obama precinct captains from Iowa, which is crazy in that the story and Ezra’s interview based on it were entirely premised on Hillary being unstoppable this time around): that something about Obama’s campaign was uniquely exciting, uniquely promising to liberals and therefore his compromises in office were newly disappointing. That assumption that Obama’s campaign was uniquely exciting really puzzles me. After all, presidential candidates have been exciting voters, including newly active voters, since at least JFK (or, in Hillary’s case, Goldwater). And while those inspired by Kennedy are unique (in that he didn’t live long enough to disappoint them), for all others, there’s always a hangover, after which people take many different paths: disillusionment, integration within the larger party, or excitement by some other candidate in some future race. So why would Obama be different (aside from the fact he’s black, which is important, but certainly not the main thing that inspired even black voters)?
I was so puzzled I actually double checked Ezra’s age because it seemed like something someone who had never voted before 2008 might say, but (as I vaguely recall), even Young Ezra was not only old enough, but quite active, in the 2004 campaign, where a guy named Howard Dean lost in Iowa, but went on to dedicate four years to mobilizing Democratic voters across the country, until Obama replaced the man whose efforts helped to get him elected.
Those years that came before are critically important, too, because they represent a period when the decline of unions — the Democrats’ former method of mass mobilization and still very much a crutch for the party — and the rise of the mobilized Christian right made Republicans newly competitive in presidential elections. And while Hillary’s husband definitely inspired his own share of newly excited voters, the response to the decline of Democrats’ natural mobilized base led to a new kind of Democratic politics, reliant on big donations and lots of TV. We needed Dean to refocus on organizing because the Democratic party had led local organizing to atrophy, which was all the more devastating given the rise of ALEC and with it a machine to help conservatives dominate legislative elections at the state level.
Which brings me to the other curious admission in Ezra’s piece: that even as Hillary-favoring “wonks” beat up on Bernie supporters for their foolish idealism, Hillary herself doesn’t have a plan to challenge Republican dominance.
The problem for Clinton is that the immediate future looks grim for the progressive agenda, and she knows it. Republicans are likely to hold both the House and the Senate. They have a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court and, at least for the moment, huge majorities in governorships and state legislatures. Americans are, if anything, growing more divided. Money is an ever more powerful force in American politics. The fact that voters don’t want a fight doesn’t mean they’re not going to have one.
Clinton doesn’t have an easy answer for any of this, and, perhaps to her credit, she’s refused to pretend otherwise. Democrats were bitterly disappointed by the compromises Obama made when he had huge Democratic majorities. The compromises the next Democratic president will have to make, given the likely Republican dominance of Congress, are going to be even more brutal for liberals — and if they’re not, it will likely be because nothing of importance gets done in the first place.
Let me clear: there’s not an easy answer to reverse the work Republicans have been doing since Reagan “changed the rules.” There’s definitely not a quick answer. But if liberals don’t start doing the work now, the apparent blind faith among some in the Democratic party that 2020’s census will magically reverse the political order will fail (if the country doesn’t fail worse before then). Though, as I note, Trump’s candidacy is itself changing the rules, in ways Democrats could well capitalize on if they stopped ignoring it.
The thing is, it’s no secret how to change things: it does remain organizing, and outside of some pre-existing institution of civil society (whether that be unions or evangelical churches), that organizing is going to require both inspiration and a commitment to issues that will benefit the masses of ordinary people.
Pessimism about how much the current Congress will get done may be realistic, but it is no more realistic than the assessment that mobilizing the people who’ve gotten screwed by Republican policies is a necessary antidote.
A lot of people are talking about this comment from Barack Obama on the Democratic primary.
GLENN THRUSH: I mean, when you watch this, what do you — do you see any elements of what you were able to accomplish in what Sanders is doing?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that Bernie has tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says: Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago? You know, why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality and, you know, be full-throated in our progressivism? And, you know, that has an appeal and I understand that.
I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives. I don’t want to exaggerate those differences, though, because Hillary is really idealistic and progressive. You’d have to be to be in, you know, the position she’s in now, having fought all the battles she’s fought and, you know, taken so many, you know, slings and arrows from the other side. And Bernie, you know, is somebody who was a senator and served on the Veterans’ Committee and got bills done. And so the—
For example, Greg Sargent argues this represents Obama siding with Hillary’s more “realistic” approach to policy.
Obama is basically trying to pour cold water on the loftiness of Sanders’ argument, by nodding to the “appeal” of promising another transformative moment, while suggesting that Clinton’s more constrained view of what can be “delivered” is more realistic, and that this is actually an attribute that recommends her for the presidency.
I’m struck, though, by Obama’s description of what makes Hillary more “realistic:” the terms of debate that Reagan set 35 years ago.
He’s making that argument, of course, in a year where Reagan’s party has utterly failed to sell its voters on any of the insider candidates for the president: especially not the son of Reagan’s Vice President. This is a year when what once got called Reagan Democrats are supporting a loudly racist protectionist, Donald Trump.
A lot of people are ignoring this fact, and failing to consider what it means for this election and potentially even for “reality” in its aftermath. Indeed, a lot of Republicans are rationalizing supporting Trump over Ted Cruz based on their claim that Trump doesn’t have any ideology, ignoring that Trump espouses economic views that largely conflict with the neoliberal doctrine of both mainstream Republicans and Democrats.
The growing likelihood that Trump will win the nomination and run on his protectionist policies won’t change what incumbents get reelected in the House — and therefore the likelihood that, if a Democrat does win, any legislative agenda will be bottled up in the Congress. But it will change what the Republican party claims to support, and the expectations its voters have of it.
Indeed, one of the only times anyone in this race was able to get Trump to change his public stance came when Bernie Sanders called him on his claim that wages were too low in this country.
Donald Trump, billionaire Republican presidential frontrunner, has changed his mind about wages: Americans aren’t earning enough. He’s also not keen on Wall Street. The shift has Trump on a collision course with Democrat Bernie Sanders – while oddly agreeing with many of his points.
“Wages in are [sic] country are too low, good jobs are too few, and people have lost faith in our leaders. We need smart and strong leadership now!” Trump tweeted on Monday.
“[T]axes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave [the minimum wage] the way it is,” Trump said at the time. “People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”
Sanders, a senator from Vermont and self-described socialist, used those comments to criticize Trump while appearing on CBS Face the Nation on Sunday.
“This is a guy who does not want to raise minimum wage,” he said of Trump. “In fact, he has said that wages in America are too high.”
Trump lashed back at Sanders, tweeting: “[Bernie Sanders]–who blew his campaign when he gave Hillary a pass on her e-mail crime, said that I feel wages in America are too high. Lie!”
There’s a reason Bernie’s attack worked and the feeble attacks launched thus far at Trump from the right have not: because Trump needs to promise the non-college educated white voters who are the key to his popularity that he will improve their lives, and while they may not be college educated they’re not so dumb as to believe they need a pay cut.
Of course, the same dynamic that has made Trump such a strong candidate also drives the willingness of voters to support a socialist. Bernie just offers a different solution to the economic woes that 35 years of cuts have brought.
A substantial and very motivated part of the electorate, on both the right and left, is telling pollsters Reagan’s rules have failed. Particularly in the face of a Trump candidacy, Democrats will have to decide whether they want to use that as an opportunity to free themselves of those terms of debate, or take ownership of them moving forward.
The political world is a-twitter over the latest in the Hillary email scandal, Fox News’ report that there were emails sent to Hillary classified at the Special Access Program level. To Fox’s credit, Catherine Herridge liberated the letter itself.
To date, I have received two sworn declarations from one IC element. These declarations cover several dozen emails containing classified information determined by the IC element to be at the CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET, and TOP SECRET/SAP levels. According to the declarant, these documents contain information derived from classified IC element sources. Due to the presence of TOP SECRET/SAP information, I provided these declarations under separate cover to the Intelligence oversight committees and the Senate and House leadership.
Note, the letter makes clear that those reporting Hillary had two SAP emails may not be correct: Charles McCullough’s letter doesn’t say how many emails were SAP and how many were CONFIDENTIAL. And the letter is conveniently written in a form that can be shared with the press without key information that would allow us to test the claims made in it.
For example, one critical detail in assessing claims about classification pertains to which IC element claims Hillary received SAP email.
That’s relevant because some agencies have more credibility in their classification claims than others. If this is CIA making the claim, for example, we should assume it’s bogus, because CIA — and its Chief of Litigation Support, Martha Lutz — routinely makes bogus claims.
I described, for example, how Lutz shamelessly claimed documents dating to 1987 on dialing a rotary phone were appropriately retroactively classified SECRET after 2006 to back the only piece of evidence admitted at trial that Jeffrey Sterling mishandled classified information.
Martha Lutz, the CIA’s Chief of Litigation Support and the bane of anyone who has FOIAed the CIA in the last decade, was on the stand, a tiny woman with a beehive hairdo and a remarkably robust voice. After having Lutz lay out the Executive Orders that have governed classified information in the last two decades and what various designations mean, the government introduced four documents into evidence — three under the silent witness rule — and showed them to Lutz.
“When originally classified were these documents properly classified as secret,” the prosecution asked of the three documents.
“They weren’t,” Lutz responded.
“But they are now properly classified secret?”
“Yes,” Lutz answered.
[T]he defense explained a bit about what these documents were. Edward MacMahon made it clear the date on the documents was February 1987 — a point which Lutz apparently missed. MacMahon then revealed that the documents explained how to use rotary phones when a CIA officer is out of the office.
That’s a big part of why Sterling is sitting in prison right now: because Lutz was willing to claim, under oath, that a 28-year old document on dialing rotary phones still (rather, newly) needed to be protected as SECRET.
But it’s not just this one case: pretty much everyone who has FOIAed CIA in recent years has a Martha Lutz story, because the agency has such a consistent history of making transparently false classification claims to hide CIA’s activities, even those that are widely known.
Just as an example, the torture program was (and possibly the still-classified aspects continue to be) a SAP. Keep that — and the many publicly known details, such as that Alfreda Bikowsky was central to some of the biggest abuses about torture, that CIA managed to bury in the Torture Report not because they’re secret but because having them officially discussed puts CIA at legal risk — in mind as everyone wags around that SAP label. If CIA is making the SAP claim, the claim itself should be suspect, because there’s such an extensive history of CIA making such claims when they were transparently bogus. Earlier in this FOIA, CIA claimed that Hillary’s staffers could only learn about the Pakistani drone program from classified information, when you’re actually better off learning about such things from Pakistani and NGO reporting; in the end McCullough sided with CIA, not because it made sense, but because that’s how classification works.
I’m on the record as thinking Hillary’s home brew server was an abuse of power and really stupid to boot. But I’m also really hesitant to make blind claims from unnamed Original Classification Authorities on faith, because the record shows that those claims are often completely bogus.
Hillary receiving a SAP email may say terrible things about her aides. Alternately, it may reinforce the case that the CIA is an out-of-control agency that makes ridiculous claims of secrecy to avoid accountability. We don’t know which of those things this story supports yet.
Update: Told ya.
The Central Intelligence Agency is the agency that provided the declarations about the classified programs, another U.S. official familiar with the situation told POLITICO Wednesday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some or all of the emails deemed to implicate “special access programs” related to U.S. drone strikes. Those who sent the emails were not involved in directing or approving the strikes, but responded to the fallout from them, the official said.
The information in the emails “was not obtained through a classified product, but is considered ‘per se’ classified” because it pertains to drones, the official added. The U.S. treats drone operations conducted by the CIA as classified, even though in a 2012 internet chat Presidential Barack Obama acknowledged U.S.-directed drone strikes in Pakistan.
The source noted that the intelligence community considers information about classified operations to be classified even if it appears in news reports or is apparent to eyewitnesses on the ground.
Update: I meant to link this earlier. It’s a complaint submitted to ISOO from Katherine Hawkins detailing all the things CIA kept classified in the Torture Report that aren’t, or were improperly classified.
Back when the beltway first declared that Hillary Clinton’s emails (by which they meant, but often didn’t specify, emails received by Hillary) included two Top Secret emails, I warned about being snookered by CIA claims their drone program was secret.
This is CIA claiming secrecy for its drone operations!!! The ongoing FOIAs about CIA’s acknowledged role in the drone war are evidence that even independent appellate judges don’t buy CIA’s claims that their drone activities are secret. Just yesterday, in fact, DC Judge Amit Mehta ordered DOJ to provide Jason Leopold more information about its legal analysis on CIA drone-killing Anwar al-Awlaki, information the CIA had claimed was classified. Indeed, Martha Lutz, the woman who likely reviewed the emails turned over, is fairly notorious for claiming things are classified that pretty obviously aren’t. It’s her job!
I’m all in favor of doing something to ensure all people in power don’t hide their official business on hidden email servers — right now, almost all people in power do do that.
But those who take CIA’s claims of drone secrecy seriously should be mocked,
On Friday, Josh Gerstein confirmed I was right to warn against taking such claims seriously.
Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III made the claim that two of the emails contained top-secret information; the State Department publicly stated its disagreement and asked Clapper’s office to referee the dispute. Now, that disagreement has been resolved in State’s favor, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Intelligence officials claimed one email in Clinton’s account was classified because it contained information from a top-secret intelligence community “product” or report, but a further review determined that the report was not issued until several days after the email in question was written, the source said.
“The initial determination was based on a flawed process,” the source said. “There was an intelligence product people thought [one of the emails] was based on, but that actually postdated the email in question.”
In an Aug. 11 memo to 17 lawmakers, McCullough said the two emails “include information classified up to TOP SECRET//SI/TK/NOFORN.” The subject of the emails has never been publicly confirmed, but published reports have said one refers to North Korea’s nuclear program and another to U.S. drone operations. The acronym “SI” in the classification marking refers to “signals intelligence,” and a footnote in McCullough’s memo references the work of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which oversees U.S. spy satellites. [link to memo added]
Here’s the AP’s earlier description of the two emails, which seems to indicate the drone information was commonly known, whereas the email to Hillary included information on North Korea that preceded by days the Top Secret report providing the same information.
The drone exchange, the officials said, begins with a copy of a news article about the CIA drone program that targets terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere. While that program is technically top secret, it is well-known and often reported on. Former CIA director Leon Panetta and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have openly discussed it.
The copy makes reference to classified information, and a Clinton adviser follows up by dancing around a top secret in a way that could possibly be inferred as confirmation, the officials said. Several people, however, described this claim as tenuous.
But a second email reviewed by Charles McCullough, the intelligence community inspector general, appears more problematic, officials said. Nothing in the message is “lifted” from classified documents, they said, though they differed on where the information in it was sourced. Some said it improperly points back to highly classified material, while others countered that it was a classic case of what the government calls “parallel reporting” — receiving information the government considers secret through “open source” channels.
While (as Steven Aftergood argues in Gerstein’s article), the implications of this admission for Hillary’s campaign are significant, consider what it also means about the intelligence our spooks claim to Top Secret: it’s often readily available from alternate (unclassified, at least in the case of the CIA’s drones) sources.
What then, is the value of the ~$70 billion a year we spend on intelligence if some of the purportedly most secret intelligence can be gleaned from the press? And to what degree is all this secrecy about hiding that fact?
The intelligence community does have secrets worth keeping. But all too frequently, it has secret shortcomings protected by a classification system it controls.
As usually happens, more journalists are examining the latest tranche of Hillary emails for gotchas than for interesting policy discussions. The latest is AP’s report that Hillary received 5 emails from Russian linked hackers attempting to phish her.
Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private email account while she was secretary of state, emails released Wednesday show. It is unclear if she clicked on any attachments and exposed her account.
Clinton received the infected emails, disguised as speeding tickets from New York, over four hours early the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets. Opening an attachment would have allowed hackers to take over control of a victim’s computer.
BREAKING! Out of almost 20,000 emails released thus far, 5 were phishing attempts.
Compare that to this report on DOD’s spam and phishing woes from earlier this week.
You could be one of the 1.6 million users on Pentagon email systems where only one in seven of the more than half a billion monthly emails received are actually legitimate.
The rest are a mixture of malicious password phishing attempts, chock full of viruses, or the bane of modern humanity’s existence: spam.
“Out of 700 million emails we’ll get in a month, only about 98 million are actually good emails,” said Lt. Gen. Alan Lynn, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, speaking at a Washington, D.C., area event Wednesday hosted by Defense Systems.
“The rest,” he said, “are spam and worm attacks.”
According to General Lynn, DOD gets 602 million spam and phishing emails a month, with just 14% of their mail actually being real email. Granted, that’s across 1.6 million users. Still that says every user averages 376 junk emails a month.
I’d say Hillary’s 5 phishing emails so far don’t look so bad by comparison.