As you no doubt know, Democrats got shellacked yesterday. Not only did they lose the Senate in spectacular fashion, but Jim and I are stuck with our shitty Republican governors. Locally, the GOP succeeded in term-limiting our Mayor who wins with 80% of the vote.
Steve Vladeck has a post considering how this will affect national security politics. I agree with his ultimate conclusion:
Thus, the real question that I think yesterday’s results raise for national security policy in the 114th Congress is not what this “genuine debate about how best to preserve constitutional values while protecting the Nation from terrorism” will look like, but rather whether the absence of such a debate (which seems increasingly likely) will indeed provoke courts to play the more aggressive role to which Justice Kennedy alluded.
But along the way, Vladeck makes a grave category error by suggesting that Ted Cruz is a libertarian.
Although the realignment thesis requires decent support from the wings of both parties, the consequences of yesterday’s results are to put the focus squarely on how libertarian Republicans approach national security policy–since theirs is the party in power in both chambers. With that in mind, consider Senator Ted Cruz’s fairly remarkable unwillingness to openly endorse Senator Mitch McConnell as majority leader. Whatever that portends with respect to the leadership race, it suggests at the very least that, on some issues, the more libertarian wing of the Republican party may not exactly fall into lockstep with the party’s more moderate elements. And while that was an intriguing enough phenomenon when Republicans only controlled the House, how that plays out when Republicans control both sides of the Capitol will be very interesting to watch.
Ted Cruz is a dangerous narcissistic authoritarian piggybacking on Tea Party popularity and amorphousness to advance his own career. He is not a libertarian.
There are, to be sure, some libertarian senators. Along with Mike Lee and Dean Heller, who get little notice, Rand Paul has learned how better to use Senate procedure to advance libertarian aims. (One piece of evidence that Cruz is not a libertarian is that both he and Paul appear to be running for President, making it clear they don’t have the same agenda.)
That said, one of the most interesting aspects of this election is that Paul did some real campaigning for authoritarian hack Pat Roberts, lending him his Tea Party cred.
Ted Cruz, however, was not out campaigning. Update: According to this, Cruz also campaigned for Roberts.
But the question of how having Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst in the Senate has little to do with their politics, in my opinion.
They have a lot more to do with the difference between Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.
John Boehner is an ineffective leader whose attempt to discipline his party ended up creating leaders who had little to lose.
Mitch McConnell is not an ineffective leader. He has long been able to demand discipline.
Perhaps the best indicator of that is what happened when Jeff Flake, who was superb on civil liberties in the House, moved to the Senate. He’s terrible on those issues now. Pretty much runs and hides in a corner, whimpering, when such issues come up. I’m not sure how Mitch did it, but he managed to neutralize someone who challenged GOP authoritarianism. Completely. I expect the same of Cory Gardner (though will be happy to be proven wrong).
In any case, I would be shocked if Mitch made the error of putting someone like Gardner (or Paul) in one of the at least 3 new Republican slots that will open up on the Intelligence Committee.
The story of the next two years will be about what Mitch — and his heavy discipline — wants to accomplish in the Senate, not about what a few libertarians or pseudo-libertarians want.
Some of the more than 300,000 residents of West Virginia who could not drink or bathe in their tap water derived from the Elk River have been told that it is now safe to do so. Considering how flawed the process was for coming up with the standard for a safe level of the contaminant, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), it should come as no surprise that residents are not buying the claim that the water is now safe:
Eric Foster got the call last night. West Virginia American Water said the water at his South Charleston home is safe.
But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to use it again.
“The water smells like licorice, and I don’t really think that’s safe,” Foster said. “I’ll never drink it again.”
Five days after a chemical spill into the Elk River left water unusable for 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers in nine counties, some residents are still wary of using the water even after officials say it’s safe again.
Water company and state officials say the water consistently tested below 1 part per million of the chemical, and have been lifting the water-use ban zone by zone. Six zones, mostly in Charleston and South Charleston, had been lifted as of Tuesday evening.
Here’s a summary of the flawed process for coming to that one part per million “safe” standard:
Unfortunately, the science behind this standard remains unclear. Based on what we do know, there are good reasons to believe that officials are overlooking significant health risks.
We know, for example, that the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that officials say they are using as their primary source lacks any information about chronic health impacts. The major federal databases we consulted suggest such data simply do not exist for this chemical.
It also appears that officials made significant leaps in their calculation of a “safe” exposure level – including assumptions that deviate from generally accepted practices. As a result, these estimates fail to adequately account for either acute or chronic health effects from ongoing exposure to water contaminated at the 1 ppm level.
At a bare minimum, the public deserves to know a lot more about the calculations behind officials’ insistence that a 1 ppm level in drinking water is safe.
But how did we get to this situation in the first place? The event that caused the ongoing contamination of the Elk River was a leak of thousands of gallons of MCHM from a facility owned by a company with the wonderfully Galtian name of Freedom Industries. Of course there is a bald eagle anchoring their website! Would you expect anything else?
How is the chemical used? It is used to perpetuate the myth of “clean coal”. Our government is even a leading crusader for this myth and boasts a nifty gif to show us how coal can be “cleaned”.
One of the main methods of producing “clean coal” is to remove particles of sulfur. From the DOE website with the nifty gif:
Take sulfur, for example. Sulfur is a yellowish substance that exists in tiny amounts in coal. In some coals found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other eastern states, sulfur makes up from 3 to 10 percent of the weight of coal.
One way is to clean the coal before it arrives at the power plant. One of the ways this is done is by simply crushing the coal into small chunks and washing it. Some of the sulfur that exists in tiny specks in coal (called “pyritic sulfur ” because it is combined with iron to form iron pyrite, otherwise known as “fool’s gold) can be washed out of the coal in this manner. Typically, in one washing process, the coal chunks are fed into a large water-filled tank. The coal floats to the surface while the sulfur impurities sink. There are facilities around the country called “coal preparation plants” that clean coal this way.
The reaction from members of Congress to the revelation that the Section 215 surveillance was just as bad as some of us have been warning has varied, with Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss reiterating claims about the value and oversight of the program (though not having any idea, according to DiFi, whether it has prevented any attacks), and Ron Wyden and Mark Udall effectively saying “I told you so.” John Boehner dodged aggressively, suggesting even though he had approved this surveillance President Obama had to explain it.
Asked whether lawmakers should answer for an order that fell under the Patriot Act they passed, Boehner disagreed. “The tools were given to the administration, and it’s the administration’s responsibility to explain how these tools are used,” he said. ”I’ll leave it to them to explain.”
By far the most disingenuous, however, was Jim Sensenbrenner, who (as he has emphasized to the credulous journalists who served as his stenographers today) wrote the PATRIOT Act, who has remained in a senior position on House Judiciary Committee since that day, and who now claims to be shocked — shocked! — there is dragnet collection going on in the casino he built.
Predictably, he wrote a letter demanding to know how a law he has fought to retain its current form could be used to do what the law authorizes.
In the letter, Sensenbrenner de-emphasizes the role of the relevance standard to the collection.
To obtain a business records order from the court, the Patriot Act requires the government to show that: (1) it is seeking the information in certain authorized national security investigations pursuant to guidelines approved by the Attorney General; (2) if the investigative target is a U.S. person, the investigation is not based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment; and (3) the information sought is relevant to the authorized investigation.
Compare that to the letter of the law, which requires the government to show,
(A) a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain to—
(i) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;
(ii) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or
(iii) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation;
That is, the emphasis is not on the investigation, as Sensenbrenner’s interpretation would have it, but on the relevance of the information sought, which Sensenbrenner adds third. More importantly, Sensenbrenner omits all mention of the presumptively relevant conditions — basically something pertaining to a foreign power.
With his interpretation, Sensenbrenner has omitted something baked into Section 215, which is that so long as the government says this pertains to foreign spies or terrorists, the judge has almost no discretion on whether information is relevant to an investigation.
Then Sensenbrenner points to 2011 testimony from Acting Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen, who he claims said the following:
Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like. It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records. . . On average, we seek and obtain section 215 ordersless than 40 times per year
Which Sensenbrenner uses to claim the Department never told the Committee about this dragnet.
The Department’s testimony left the Committee with the impression that the Administration was using the business records provision sparingly and for specific materials. The recently released FISA order, however, could not have been drafted more broadly.
As it happens, Hinnen has been testifying since at least 2009 that Section 215 authorizes other secret programs. So I checked Sensenbrenner’s work. Here’s what that precise passage of Hinnen’s testimony says, without the deceitful ellipsis.
Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like. It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records. Some orders have also been used to support important and highly sensitive intelligence collection operations, on which this committee and others have been separately briefed. On average, we seek and obtain section 215 ordersless than 40 times per year. [my emphasis]
In other words, Sensenbrenner points to doctored proof he has been briefed on this secret program, but doctors it in such a way as to support his claim he never knew about this.
Not to mention that a series of DOJ Inspector General reports included classified appendices describing these secret collection operations.
Back when the 2016 GOP nomination kicked off (a good 5 days before Mitt got around to losing officially), here’s one way Paul Ryan’s anonymous advisors envisioned insulating his Presidential ambitions from any damaging votes: quitting.
They say that if he fails, Ryan’s instincts will be to return to the House — he is running for re-election to his House seat at the same time he’s Romney’s running mate — and resume his role as Budget Committee chairman.
Some senior Republicans caution it might not be that easy.
If Romney loses, Ryan will be seen as a leading White House contender in 2016. He will be a national party figure even without being a top member of the House leadership. That could breed resentment among current Republican leaders and perhaps splinter coalitions within the already fractured GOP alliances at the top of the House.
A return also would make Ryan a leading target for Democrats. For the next few years, Democrats would lay traps in legislation, forcing him to take sides on measures that could come back to haunt him during a presidential bid.
That is why some of Ryan’s biggest boosters are considering whether it wouldn’t be better for Ryan to resign from the House.
Never mind the delusion that suggests Ryan would be that enticing a target for Democrats. It gave Ryan’s advisors an excuse to advocate he quit before he has to cast anymore unpopular votes.
Speaker John A. Boehner has tapped Mr. Ryan, who has returned to his post as the House Budget Committee chairman after an unsuccessful run for vice president, to help strike a deal to avoid big tax increases and spending cuts by the end of the year, and to bring along fellow Republicans.
“He helps us toward creating a product,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, “and he helps sell the product.”
The test will be whether Mr. Ryan — who declined last year to sit on another Congressional committee charged with taming the deficit, in large part because doing so might have hurt his prospects for national office — can make the transition from House budget philosopher to governing heavyweight who can help negotiate a bipartisan deal and sell it to his colleagues.
With his new muscle and increased respect from his colleagues, Mr. Ryan could conceivably scuttle any deal if he loudly opposes a solution that the speaker and the top Republican leaders embrace. But his conservative base might rebel against him if he were to endorse any deal seen as awarding too much to Mr. Obama and the Democrats, particularly on tax rates. Some Republicans think the pitfalls are dangerous enough that Mr. Ryan might consider leaving Congress altogether to work on his policy agenda without the inherent headaches of the Hill.
“He has to think about what he wants his role to be,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “Is he going to run in 2016, or run for something else in Wisconsin, or play a bigger role in the House? He’s going to play an outsize role here because of the national profile he now has, but on the other hand, this conference is quite happy to act independently.” [my emphasis]
The implication being that if he plans to run in 2016, Ryan can’t stick around and–with a vote in favor of a “Grand Bargain”–compromise his governing ideology by admitting does not support a functioning government. Elsewhere, the article notes how much fun he and his wife had visting her grandmother’s home in Iowa.
In other words, he clearly plans to run.
Which leaves the question whether he truly agrees with these anonymous and on-the-record sources advising him to quit if he plans to run for President.
I guess he plans to follow the successful path of President Palin, then, even if he can’t run a marathon as fast as she can.
I just wonder what his Hollywood reality show will be called.
We’ll have to come back to the issue of why President Obama decided to use his recess authority to appoint Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board but not Dawn Johnsen or Elizabeth Warren. But for now, I’d like to collect the wails of Republican outrage.
Shorter John Boehner: Protecting consumers from rapacious banks is an extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab! Protecting consumers is bad for the economy!
Shorter Mitch McConnell: Obama has arrogantly circumvented the American people by protecting the American people!
Shorter Orrin Hatch: It is a very grave decision by this heavy-handed, autocratic White House to appoint someone to protect consumers. The American people deserve to be treated with more respect than this White House is affording them by protecting them from the banks!
Shorter Spencer Bachus: Appointing a director to the CFPB will cripple it for years. The greatest threat to our economy right now is uncertainty, and by protecting consumers the President just guaranteed there will be even more uncertainty.
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.
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?
Indicative of the praise is this tweet from Keith Olbermann:
You know my criticisms of this POTUS. In this news conference he has been absolutely effing kickass, and properly pissed off.
David Corn of Mother Jones tweeted:
O was as passionate and as close to angry as he gets. #debtageddon
And Corn is now on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC, where Lawrence the “Eleventy Dimensional Chess Scold” himself just said of Obama’s presser:
“It was a brilliantly effective appearance for his reelection.”
And there is the problem isn’t it? Obama really was, and is, worried more about his reelection than he is the welfare of the country and the entirety of its citizens who are not members of his cherished moneyed elite and financial sector magnates.
The details seemed to ebb and flow over the last few days, but this from Bloomberg sums up the basics of what Obama was willing to pull the trigger on:
Two congressional officials said the White House told Democratic leaders it was pursuing a deal to cut spending, including on Social Security and Medicare, and a tax overhaul that could raise $1 trillion. That provoked an angry reaction yesterday from Senate Democrats, who said they feared they might be asked to swallow steep reductions in programs and trims to entitlement benefits with no assurance of higher tax revenue.
Right. What Obama was caterwauling about being “left at the altar” was his willingness, nee burning desire, to make huge cuts in spending and social safety net programs, in return for the possibility of a tax reform later.
And, make no mistake, Mr. Obama is absolutely desperate to make that deal in order to get the debt ceiling issue off the table until sometime after his reelection campaign. His “Grand Bargain” is shit for the economy, shit for almost all Americans safety net now and in the future; it is only good for the howling idiots in the Tea Party sphere and, of course, the reelection campaign of Barack Obama.
So THAT is what was “left at the altar”, and why Barack Obama was suddenly so apoplectically passionate about it. And, yes, it must be stated Boehner, Cantor and the Tea GOP are even more craven and lame than Obama here, but that is pretty weak tea to hang your hat on if you are a sentient being. And that, folks, was the way it was on the day the debt ceiling fell to the floor.
But, fear not trepidatious Americans, Mr. Obama is going to try to save your future and his “grand bargain” again tomorrow! Gee, what dedication.
UPDATE: Paul Krugman understands the ugly truth here, having issued an article today entitled “What Obama Was Willing To Give Away”. Exactly.
[The wonderful and appropos graphic is by the one and only @TWolf10]
Chuck Todd tweeted last night:
WH announced that POTUS ordered the Patriot Act renewal to be signed by the “autopen”; so, yes, it was robosigned
Reason given for robosigning via autopen: Patriot Act expires midnight tonight, so as to not have gap, either robosigned or flown to him
Now, Todd was writing in the early hours of morning, French time, while watching hoops (I believe he’s a Heat fan). So this interpretation may be a product of his inattention/fatigue.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting because Todd improperly called signing the PATRIOT Act with an autopen “robosigning.” They’re not actually the same thing. Robosigning as currently used is when a poorly paid live person signs a name to a document (though maybe not the one whose name gets signed), claiming to attest to the accuracy of documents without actually doing so. By ordering that PATRIOT be signed using his autopen, Obama gave the law the full weight of law, yet without actually signing the document.
As I joked last night, they’re going to have to add a couple of lines to Schoolhouse Rock to explain to children the magic of the President’s autopen:
I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill, thanks to the President losing his auto-quill.
I’m off to the White House to wait in a line for the President’s autosign.
So Todd was somewhat inaccurate in calling this robosigning. But in a funny way that accorded the PATRIOT signing the same illegitimacy and fraud of foreclosure fraud.
That said, Todd then parroted the Administration fib about why “robosigning” was necessary: because the PATRIOT authorities extended yesterday expired at midnight, so the only way to get the bill signed into law was with Obama’s autopen (or a whole lot of wasted jet fuel, and even that wouldn’t have worked in time).
But that’s not right. Because it ignores the way Congress did nothing with the PATRIOT extensions in the existing extension period, the way those defending the status quo preferred letting time run out to a real debate on these authorities, the way a long-term extension was rammed through at the last moment.
The way to avoid the fraudulent appearance of auto-signing the PATRIOT act, of course, would have been to have an actual debate about it. But Harry Reid and John Boehner and Obama and the other defenders of the status quo couldn’t have that!
Update: Apparently it’s okay to “robo-sign” bills into law because Steven Bradbury said it was:
WH says “auto pen” use authorized by Office of Legal Counsel finding in 2005. Obama phoned auto pen OK to staff secretary last night.
This is the disrespect in which our Congress holds our Constitution: they will continue to chip away at the Fourth Amendment, by passing yet another extension of the PATRIOT Act without addressing the clear abuses identified since the last extension.
US Congress leaders have agreed to extend for four years an array of counter-terrorism surveillance and search powers adopted after the September 11, 2001 attacks, sources said Thursday.Under the arrangement, the Senate and House of Representatives will hold a vote on extending the controversial powers at the core of the Patriot Act before they lapse on May 27, according to several congressional aides.
The officials said the vote would be “a clean extension” to June 1, 2015, meaning it would not include new civil liberties safeguards sought by some senior lawmakers of both major parties.
Apparently, it’s just too much work to do their fucking jobs and deal with the sound reform proposals on the table.
The ACLU is trying to get a barrage of contacts to legislators.
But if your legislator is either a real liberal or a TeaPartier, please contact them one way or another.
As you’ve likely heard, the Chamber of Commerce has officially endorsed government welfare to limit corporate risk. (Again.)
The head of the United States Chamber of Commerce said Friday that his group is not yet lobbying against legislative efforts to raise BP’s liability cap, viewing the issue as not yet “ripe.”
He signaled, however, that his group would figure out a way to get the government to share in the cost of cleaning up the Gulf Coast.
“It is generally not the practice of this country to change the laws after the game,” said Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “. . . Everybody is going to contribute to this clean up. We are all going to have to do it. We are going to have to get the money from the government and from the companies and we will figure out a way to do that.” [my emphasis]
And like an obedient orange puppy, John Boehner has embraced the Chamber’s call for government welfare for corporations.
I do agree with Steve Benen that the Republican (and Mary Landrieu) embrace of big oil ahead of taxpayers ought to be a game changer.
But I’d also like to note how, um, opportunistic the Chamber is with its insistence that “it is generally not the practice of this country to change the laws after the game.” This is what the Chamber wrote to pressure the House to support a FISA amendment that invalidated a law holding telecoms liable for illegal wiretapping of private citizens.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region, strongly supports S. 2248, the “FISA Amendments Act of 2007,” as passed by the Senate on February 12, 2008. The Chamber believes that this bill, in its current form, provides necessary, appropriate, and targeted relief commensurate with the threat to national security that arose in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.The Chamber represents companies across various industries which own or operate vital components of the nation’s critical physical, virtual, and economic infrastructures. The federal government continually depends upon such industries for cooperation and assistance in national security matters, including homeland security programs and activities. The government also turns to these companies in times of crisis, when the speed, agility, and creativity of the private sector can be critical to averting a terrorist attack.
Therefore, the Chamber urges the House to consider S. 2248 and pass this bipartisan compromise legislation. The Chamber firmly believes that the immunity provisions in S. 2248 are imperative to preserving the self-sustaining “public-private partnership” that both Congress and the Executive Branch have sought to protect the United States in the post-September 11 world. [my emphasis]
Of course, the Chamber is being utterly consistent on one point. That’s in lobbying to make sure big corporations never pay for the negative consequences–be they legal or financial–of their actions.