It’s Friday and that means jazz here at emptywheel. But no genre exploration today, just this lovely, evocative downtempo jazz/trip hop fusion work.
It’s dark water jazz indeed this week…
Congress oublies the Flint water crisis
I can’t find anything in C-SPAN about the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing which was to address the crisis. Convenient for Republicans running for office right now to keep themselves at arm’s length from a Republican scandal. We’re lucky the hearing was captured at all; it can be found at the committee’s website. (Video 3:44:08)
It must be difficult to kowtow to traditional GOP underwriters while trying to appear like you’re doing a credible job of representing Americans most in need. But it’s a lot easier to bury and forget the inconvenient.
The latest scuttlebutt is that the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (S.2012) will proceed without additional funding to remedy Flint’s damaged water system, still replete with lead piping. Senate Republicans led by Senator Mike Lee of Utah protested the inclusion of funding for Flint in this bill, threatening to reject it altogether.
Wait — you know who’s up for reelection this season? Senator Mike Lee! Amazing coincidence! Or not. You know, Senator Lee, when your fellow senators leak about your obstruction, you should catch a clue. Sometimes actually helping Americans is more important than sucking up to your anti-tax overlords.
You know who else is up for reelection this season? Senator Lisa Murkowski, the chair of the counterpart Senate Energy Committee and the sponsor of S.2012. You’d think she’d want to look effective as a leader and at governance.
Roughly 8,000 children will continue to live as if they are in a third world country, with a patchwork of assistance for their health and education, but no relief from the lead pipes which continue to run from the water department to their homes. Imagine them drinking water out bottles for the rest of their childhoods, their families having to take additional time and effort to lug bottles upon bottles for their daily essential needs.
Don’t even suggest these families leave. They are stuck, STUCK in Flint, because their property values have been gutted by the failure of a GOP-led state administration, and the continued avoidance by a GOP-led Congress. Who wants to buy a home with lead pipes in Flint now? Which banks want to finance new mortgages to those homes? Which insurers want to write coverage on them?
Some government aid has been offered to Flint — which the ever-ineffectual Rep. Fred Upton recited like a litany during the hearing (see 0:13:30 in the video) — but none of it addresses the lead piping.
Donald Trump won the Republican primary in Flint’s home county of Genessee, by the way. Can’t understand why…
Cleaning off the desk
Stuff worth perusing, but I’m not going to elaborate on before I chuck it in the bin for the week.
Between September 2014 and March 2016, Microsoft received 5,624 federal demands for customer information or data. Of those, nearly half—2,576—were accompanied by secrecy orders, forbidding Microsoft from telling the affected customers that the government was looking at their information. The vast majority of these secrecy orders related to consumer accounts and prevent Microsoft from telling affected individuals about the government’s intrusion into their personal affairs; others prevent Microsoft from telling business customers that the government has searched and seized the emails of individual employees of the customer. Further, 1,752 of these secrecy orders contained no time limit, meaning that Microsoft could forever be barred from telling the affected customer about the government’s intrusion. The government has used this tactic in this District. Since September 2014, Microsoft received 25 secrecy orders issued in this District, none of which contained any time limit. These secrecy orders prohibit Microsoft from speaking about the government’s specific demands to anyone and forbid Microsoft from ever telling its customers whose documents and communications the government has obtained. The secrecy orders thus prevent Microsoft’s customers and the public at large from ever learning the full extent of government access to private, online information
Emphasis Microsoft’s. Therein the one way to release a limited amount of information: file suit against the government.
And with that we’re off, headed for a nice spring weekend ahead. Have a good one!
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 Senate just voted down cloture on the USA Freedom Act, 58-42. Even while we disagreed on the bill, I extend sincere condolences to civil liberties allies who worked hard to pass this in good faith. I know you all have worked hard in good faith to pass something viable.
Several things about the vote were predictable (in fact, I predicted them in June). Just as one example, I noted to allies that if Jeff Flake — who had a great record on civil liberties while he was still in the House — did not support the effort, it would fail. Four Senators — cosponsors Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Dean Heller, plus Lisa Murkowski voted for cloture; Rand Paul did not. Bill Nelson voted against cloture as well (there are reports he is claiming it was a mistake, but given how closely this bill was whipped that would be … telling).
Equally predictable was the fear-mongering. GOP Senator after GOP Senator got up and insisted if the phone dragnet ended, ISIL would attack the country. None noted, of course, that the phone dragnet had never succeeded in preventing a terrorist attack. Pat Leahy made that point but it’s one opponents of the dragnet need to make in more concerted fashion.
Then there was a piece of news that neither side — supporter or opponent — seemed to want to mention. Dianne Feinstein revealed that at first 2 of 4 providers (presumably the fourth is T-Mobile though it could even be Microsoft, given that Skype is a more important phone carrier for international traffic) had refused to keep phone records, but that they had voluntarily agreed to do so for a full two years (this is at least a 6 month extension for Verizon, though may be significantly longer for cell calls).
The most dramatic part of the debate came after everyone left, when a frustrated Pat Leahy made the case for defending the Constitution. He recalled the anthrax letter addressed to him, on September 18, 2001, that killed a postal worker who processed it (
another letter killed a Tom Daschle aide see Meryl Nass’ correction). “13 years ago this week, a letter was sent to me, addressed to me. It was so deadly, with the antrax in it that one person who touched the envelope–addressed to me, that I was supposed to open–They died!” Leahy reminded that the FBI had still not caught all the culprits for the attack. (That he believes that was first reported here in 2008; I believe FBI has, in fact, caught none of the culprits.) That attack targeting him personally, Leahy noted, did not convince him he had to abrogate the Constitution. “This nation should not let our liberties to be set aside by passing fears.” Leahy said. “If we do not protect our Constitution we do not deserve to be in this body.”
Senators like Marco Rubio got up and screamed about terrorists. But unless I’m mistaken, Pat Leahy is the only one remaining in the Senate who was personally targeted by a terrorist.
Maybe we ought to highlight that point?
Updated w/additions from Leahy’s comments.
One of my friends, who works in a strategic role at American Federation of Teachers, is Iranian-American. I asked him a few weeks ago whom he called in Iran; if I remember correctly (I’ve been asking a lot of Iranian-Americans whom they call in Iran) he said it was mostly his grandmother, who’s not a member of the Republican Guard or even close. Still, according to the statement that Dianne Feinstein had confirmed by NSA Director Keith Alexander, calls “related to Iran” are fair game for queries of the dragnet database of all Americans’ phone metadata.
Chances are slim that my friend’s calls to his grandmother are among the 300 identifiers the NSA queried last year, unless (as is possible) they monitored all calls to Iran. But nothing in the program seems to prohibit it, particularly given the government’s absurdly broad definitions of “related to” for issues of surveillance and its bizarre adoption of a terrorist program to surveil another nation-state. And if someone chose to query on my friend’s calls to his grandmother, using the two-degrees-of-separation query they have used in the past would give the government — not always the best friend of teachers unions — a pretty interesting picture of whom the AFT was partnering with and what it had planned.
In other words, nothing in the law or the known minimization rules of the Business Records provision would seem to protect some of the AFT’s organizational secrets just because they happen to employ someone whose grandmother is in Iran. That’s not the only obvious way labor discussions might come under scrutiny; Colombian human rights organizers with tangential ties to FARC is just one other one.
When I read labor organizer Louis Nayman’s “defense of PRISM,” it became clear he’s not aware of many details of the programs he defended. Just as an example, Nayman misstated this claim:
According to NSA officials, the surveillance in question has prevented at least 50 planned terror attacks against Americans, including bombings of the New York City subway system and the New York Stock Exchange. While such assertions from government officials are difficult to verify independently, the lack of attacks during the long stretch between 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings speaks for itself.
Keith Alexander didn’t say NSA’s use of Section 702 and Section 215 have thwarted 50 planned attacks against Americans; those 50 were in the US and overseas. He said only around 10 of those plots were in the United States. That works out to be less than 20% of the attacks thwarted in the US just between January 2009 and October 2012 (though these programs have existed for a much longer period of time, so the percentage must be even lower). And there are problems with three of the four cases publicly claimed by the government — from false positives and more important tips in the Najibullah Zazi case, missing details of the belated arrest of David Headley, to bogus claims that Khalid Ouazzan ever planned to attack NYSE. The sole story that has stood up to scrutiny is some guys who tried to send less than $10,000 to al-Shabaab.
While that doesn’t mean the NSA surveillance programs played no role, it does mean that the government’s assertions of efficacy (at least as it pertains to terrorism) have proven to be overblown.
Yet from that, Nayman concludes these programs have “been effective in keeping us safe” (given Nayman’s conflation of US and overseas, I wonder how families of the 166 Indians Headley had a hand in killing feel about that) and defends giving the government legal access (whether they’ve used it or not) to — among other things — metadata identifying the strategic partners of labor unions with little question.
And details about the success of the program are not the only statements made by top National Security officials that have proven inaccurate or overblown. That’s why Nayman would be far better off relying on Mark Udall and Ron Wyden as sources for whether or not the government can read US person emails without probable cause than misstating what HBO Director David Simon has said (Simon said that entirely domestic communications require probable cause, which is generally but not always true). And not just because the Senators are actually read into these programs. After the Senators noted that Keith Alexander had “portray[ed] protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are” — specifically as it relates to what the government can do with US person communications collected “incidentally” to a target — Alexander withdrew his claims.
Nayman says, “As people who believe in government, we cannot simply assume that officials are abusing their lawfully granted responsibility and authority to defend our people from violence and harm.” I would respond that neither should we simply assume they’re not abusing their authority, particularly given evidence those officials have repeatedly misled us in the past.
Nayman then admits, “We should do all we can to assure proper oversight any time a surveillance program of any size and scope is launched.” But a big part of the problem with these programs is that the government has either not implemented or refused such oversight. Some holes in the oversight of the program are:
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today to review the results of the Schuelke report on the prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens case and to entertain the Lisa Murkowski bill requiring disclosure. In response, DOJ submitted a statement for the record, opposing any legislation enforcing its discovery obligations.
When concerns were first raised about the handling of the prosecution of Senator Stevens, the Department immediately conducted an internal review. The Attorney General recognized the importance of ensuring trust and confidence in the work of Department prosecutors and took the extraordinary step of moving to dismiss the case when errors were discovered. Moreover, toensure that the mistakes in the Stevens case would not be repeated, the Attorney General convened a working group to review discovery practices and charged the group with developing recommendations for improving such practices so that errors are minimized. As a result of the working group’s efforts, the Department has taken unprecedented steps, described more fully below, to ensure that prosecutors, agents, and paralegals have the necessary training and resources to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations with respect to discovery in criminal cases. These reforms include a sweeping training curriculum for all federal prosecutors and the requirement–for the first time in the history of the Department of Justice–that every federal prosecutor receive refresher discovery training each year.
In light of these internal reforms, the Department does not believe that legislation is needed to address the problems that came to light in the Stevens prosecution. Such a legislative proposal would upset the careful balance of interests at stake in criminal cases, cause significant harm to victims, witnesses, and law enforcement efforts, and generate substantial and unnecessary litigation that would divert scarce judicial and prosecutorial resources.
In short, DOJ is saying, “trust us. We don’t need a law requiring us to do what case law says we need to.”
Right off the bat, I can think of 5 major problem with this statement:
No one has been held accountable
We are three years past the time when Stevens’ case was thrown out. Yet none of the prosecutors involved have been disciplined in any meaningful way.
No doubt DOJ would say that it will hold prosecutors responsible if and when the Office of Professional Responsibility finds they committed misconduct. But in the interim three years, DOJ as a whole has sent clear messages that it prefers protecting its case to doing anything about misconduct. And–as Chuck Grassley rightly pointed out at the hearing–thus far no one has been held responsible.
This statement may claim DOJ is serious about prosecutorial misconduct. But its actions (and inaction) says the opposite.
Even after this training, discovery problems remain
As the DOJ statement lays out, in response to the Stevens debacle, DOJ rolled out annual training programs for prosecutors to remind them of their discovery obligations.
And yet, last year, Leonie Brinkema found that prosecutors in the Jeff Sterling case had failed to turn over critical evidence about prosecution witnesses–one of the problems with the Stevens prosecution. The prosecutor involved? William Welch, whom Schuelke accused of abdicating his leadership role in the Stevens case (note, DOJ says the CIA is at fault for the late discovery; but Welch is, after all, the prosecutor who bears responsibility for it).
If William Welch can’t even get discovery right after his involvement in this case and, presumably, undergoing the training DOJ promises will fix the problem, then training is not enough to fix the problem.
Eric Holder won’t run DOJ forever
The statement focuses on Holder’s quick decision to dismiss the case against Stevens, as if that, by itself, guards against any similar problems in the future. But before Holder was AG, Michael Mukasey was–and Judge Emmet Sullivan grew so exasperated with Mukasey’s stonewalling on this case, he ordered him to personally respond to questions about the case.
As I noted last week, every single Catholic Senator save Susan Collins who voted for the Blunt Amendment last week appears likely to have relied on the birth control their Church prohibits to limit the size of their families. Lisa Murkowski, who has just 2 kids, was among the 10 Catholics who was using her position to help the Catholic Church enforce a doctrine she herself has ignored.
What Lisa Murkowski told me I already suspected. She’s a moderate. She supports abortion rights and contraception coverage. She also doesn’t line up completely with the Catholic Church when it comes to birth control. She regretted her recent vote.
I pointed out that her support for birth control conflicts with the Catholic mandate against it.
“You know, I don’t adhere to all of the tenets of my faith.
Now, she’s still spinning her vote (and her letter opposing Obama’s rule on contraception) as one in favor of religious freedom.
She’d meant to make a statement about religious freedom, she said, but voters read it as a vote against contraception coverage for women.
But it is not “religious freedom” to craft laws to help the Church enforce mandates that almost none of its adherents–and probably few, if any, of the Catholic Senators supporting the law–abide by. It is an improper use of government to aid a religious institution.
Not to mention, rank hypocrisy.