Bernie Sanders

Hillary’s Admission Diplomacy Couldn’t Get Pakistan To Hand Over Bin Laden

There was a really weird moment during the foreign policy section of last night’s debate.

Bernie, to respond to Hillary’s explanation of what we need to do to win wars against terrorism, said he doesn’t support regime change. To counter him, Hillary said, in part, that he had voted in favor of regime change in Libya.

Which led to this exchange:

SANDERS: Judy, if I can, there is no question, Secretary Clinton and I are friends, and I have a lot of respect for her, that she has enormous experience in foreign affairs. Secretary of state for four years. You’ve got a bit of experience, I would imagine.

But judgment matters as well. Judgment matters as well. And she and I looked at the same evidence coming from the Bush administration regarding Iraq. I lead the opposition against it. She voted for it.

But more importantly, in terms of this Libya resolution that you have noted before, this was a virtually unanimous consent. Everybody voted for it wanting to see Libya move toward democracy, of course we all wanted to do that.

SANDERS: That is very different than talking about specific action for regime change, which I did not support.

CLINTON: You did support a U.N. Security Council approach, which we did follow up on. And, look, I think it’s important to look at what the most important counterterrorism judgment of the first four years of the Obama administration was, and that was the very difficult decision as to whether or not to advise the president to go after bin Laden.

I looked at the evidence. I looked at the intelligence. I got the briefings. I recommended that the president go forward. It was a hard choice. Not all of his top national security advisors agreed with that. And at the end of the day, it was the president’s decision. So he had to leave the Situation Room after hearing from the small group advising him and he had to make that decision. I’m proud that I gave him that advice. And I’m very grateful to the brave Navy SEALs who carried out that mission.

This is not the first time Hillary has changed the subject by bringing up the Osama bin Laden killing — a far more awkward example came when she did so to respond to Chuck Todd’s question whether she would release her Goldman Sachs speech transcripts.

TODD: Are you willing to release the transcripts of all your paid speeches? We do know through reporting that there were transcription services for all of those paid speeches. In full disclosure, would you release all of them?

CLINTON: I will look into it. I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it. But, I can only repeat what is the fact that I spoke to a lot of different groups with a lot of different constituents, a lot of different kinds of members about issues that had to do with world affairs. I probably described more times than I can remember how stressful it was advising the President about going after Bin Laden.

But this example is more telling in a number of respects.

First, consider why she had to change the subject, aside from the fact that Libya has turned out to be such a colossal mistake. Hillary claimed Bernie voted in favor of regime change and then, without a break, described the vote as favoring Security Council involvement.

He voted in favor of regime change with Libya, voted in favor of the Security Council being an active participate in setting the parameters for what we would do, which of course we followed through on.

The resolution included, among other things, these three parts:

(3) calls on Muammar Qadhafi to desist from further violence, recognize the Libyan people’s demand for democratic change, resign his position and permit a peaceful transition to democracy governed by respect for human and civil rights and the right of the people to choose their government in free and fair elections;

(7) urges the United Nations Security Council to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory;

(11) Welcomes the outreach that has begun by the United States government to Libyan opposition figures and supports an orderly, irreversible and transition to a legitimate democratic government in Libya.

It certainly called for Qaddafi to resign and transfer power to a democratic government. It even endorsed the “outreach” — which ultimately involved barely covert support for rebels — as a means to “transition to a legitimate democratic government.” And it called for the UNSC to take further action, which it did weeks later in calling for a no-fly zone. Famously, Russia and China only permitted that resolution to pass because Susan Rice had led them to believe it did not entail regime change (which is why Russia refused to play along with multilateral efforts to do something about Bashar Assad’s massacres).

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said he had abstained, although his country’s position opposing violence against civilians in Libya was clear.  Work on the resolution was not in keeping with Security Council practice, with many questions having remained unanswered, including how it would be enforced and by whom, and what the limits of engagement would be.  His country had not prevented the adoption of the resolution, but he was convinced that an immediate ceasefire was the best way to stop the loss of life.  His country, in fact, had pressed earlier for a resolution calling for such a ceasefire, which could have saved many additional lives.  Cautioning against unpredicted consequences, he stressed that there was a need to avoid further destabilization in the region.

In last night’s debate, Sanders responded — after talking about what good friends he is with the woman who just claimed he had supported regime change — that he had supported more democracy in Libya, not regime change.

Everybody voted for it wanting to see Libya move toward democracy, of course we all wanted to do that. That is very different than talking about specific action for regime change, which I did not support.

Which led Hillary to suggest, in response, that “we follow[ed] up on,” which led directly to Qaddafi taking a bayonet up his rectum.

You did support a U.N. Security Council approach, which we did follow up on.

Hillary is suggesting (whether solely for political gain or also for legal cover, it’s not entirely clear) that that Senate call for democracy entailed permission to execute regime change. That is, she seems to be claiming that the intent all along was regime change and Sanders should have known that when he did not object to a voice vote in favor of the Libya resolution.

Then, BOOM, dead Osama bin Laden…

… Just in case you start thinking too much about what it means that Hillary suggested that Senate resolution amounted to support for regime change which therefore amounted to an authorization to use military force.

Now, thus far, the exchange is troubling, but not surprising. Hillary’s hawkishness and fondness for fairly broad exercises of executive authority are known qualities.

But the juxtaposition of the disastrous regime change effort in Libya with Obama’s decision to secretly send Navy SEALs into Pakistan to execute Osama bin Laden got me thinking about how different that OBL decision looks when the former Secretary of State is boasting about it, rather than the President.

Once you decide that the way to respond to locating OBL is to sneak into a sovereign country and execute someone, you clearly have to consult with the Secretary of State, as she’s going to have to deal with the diplomatic fallout. That was all the more true as things rolled out, given that we were already conducting delicate negotiations to get Raymond Davis out. Not to mention the way that Davis fiasco soured relations between CIA and State.

Left unsaid, though, is the other option: developing good enough relations with Pakistan — or, more likely, being able to wield enough leverage against Pakistan — such that they would turn him over without the sovereignty violation.

Maybe — likely — that was never going to happen. Maybe — likely — within the bowels of CIA and State and the White House we had good reason to know that Pakistan would not turn over OBL, no matter how much leverage we used. Maybe — likely — it’s also true that the Obama Administration thinks special forces have a better success rate than diplomacy — or thought that, in his first term; his second term, post-Clinton, has had a series of impressive diplomatic successes.

I’m not suggesting I think we could have just asked nicely. But I find it notable that the Secretary of State describes her role as advising the President on whether or not to violate another country’s sovereignty to execute someone, not as considering whether there are other ways to achieve the same objective. I find it remarkable that a Secretary of State boasts about this decision, which ultimately is about the limits of diplomacy even with our so-called allies.

Biased Pluralism and the Defense of “Reality” in the Democratic Primary

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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.

On Pluralism, Bernie Sanders, and the Fight for 15

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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?

The Virgin Birth of Obama’s Wonk Core

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.

Mr. President: Trump’s Voters Are Changing Reagan’s Terms of Debate

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.

[snip]

“[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.

Mankiw’s Ten Principles of Economics Part 11: Conclusions

The introduction to this series is here.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.
Part 5 is here.
Part 6 is here.
Part 7 is here.
Part 8 is here.
Part 9 is here.
Part 10 is here.

This series is an outgrowth of a series of short essays [links here] on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Change. Economists desperately want people to think they are scientists, so much so that they will put on lab coats as in this delightful story.

Donning customized white lab coats, University of Delaware officials cut the ribbon on the new Center for Experimental and Applied Economics at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources last week.

“Our experiments pay people cash to analyze their decisions,” said Kent Messer, a professor … .

Chapter 2 of Mankiw’s introductory textbook has a section titled “The Economist as Scientist”. He claims that just like physical scientists, economists “… devise theories, collect data, and then analyze these data in an attempt to verify or refute their theories.” P. 22. Based on this section, I thought he was saying that the 10 principles I’ve discussed in this series were in the nature of scientific principles. I suggested that with the addition of methodological ideas and some basic assumptions about the goals of a society, they could be treated as a paradigm in the sense Kuhn describes.

The goals of this series were: 1. to examine that possibility; 2. to see if these principles served as a structure for neoliberal economic theory, and 3. to see if there were other ways of looking at these principles that would be enlightening.

The first goal seemed perfectly reasonable. According to Kuhn, you don’t write a physical science textbook unless the community of scientists who study that area agree on a paradigm of the discipline. But my brief looks at these principles makes me think that they are either vacuously true, reductive to the point of absurdity, or hotly contested by other economists. I think I have shown that these principles do not operate as a statement of agreed-upon ideas about the way the economy works. They barely describe individual activity in any useful way.

Consider Principle 4, People Respond to Incentives. Of course they do sometimes, and sometimes not. And sometimes they respond in wildly disparate but perfectly reasonable ways. You see a car advertisement offering a price break for buying right now. Does Principle 4 help you understand how I might respond? Here’s a harder example. Interest rates go up. That creates an incentive to do what? Buy a house before rates go up further? Wait to see if higher interest rates cool off the housing market so houses are cheaper, so maybe even with higher interest rates your mortgage payment will be lower? Consume less and save more money? Wait for the stock market to go down and buy stocks? What conclusions can be drawn from this principle? How is it useful? Any time you might want to apply it, you have to look at the specifics of the situation, including the people who are supposedly going to respond to the incentives. Also, lacking data, there is a strong tendency to assume other people think like you do.

The function of the paradigm for Kuhn is to provide a platform for further research in what he calls normal science. There is an economics example in Part 10, the effort to figure out the relation between inflation and employment. People like Laurence Ball and Sandeep Mazumder of the International Fund, whose work I quote, can make a living working on ways to find an historical relationship, regardless of whether it says anything about the future. But surely if the relationship cannot actually be specified usefully after years of effort, it isn’t a real principle, and it doesn’t form the basis for a sensible research program. Morgenerally, Mankiw admits that in this blog post that there is much about macroeconomics that people don’t know.

Kuhn says that there is a difference between physics and chemistry textbooks and social sciences textbooks.

In history, philosophy, and the social sciences … the elementary college course employs parallel readings in original sources, some of them the “classics” of the field, others the contemporary research reports that practitioners write for each other. As a result, the student in any one of these disciplines is constantly made aware of the immense variety of problems that the members of his future group have, in the course of time, attempted to solve. Even more important, he has constantly before him a number of competing and incommensurable solutions to these problems, solutions that he must ultimately evaluate for himself. P 164

That does not describe Mankiw’s textbook which reads just like the physics and chemistry textbooks Kuhn describes. There are summary remarks about historical figures in the field, and the discipline is presented as a cumulative result of a steady progress of understanding. There is no question about the truth content of a single statement in Mankiw’s text, no hint that respectable economists reject his conclusions. Any student who only takes intro to economics using Mankiw’s textbook will never learn about the massive differences among schools of economics, will never learn that there are alternatives to the monetarist/neoliberal views implicit in the book, and will never have a way to examine economic policy problems from any perspective other than Mankiw’s.

That is what makes this textbook approach so dangerous. Mankiw presents a finished survey of the field, with the imprimatur of authority, when there is no consensus. It’s a fair reading of this book to call Introduction to Neoliberal Economics. It’s not fair to call it a balanced presentation of a discipline shot through with contested assertions.

I think I’ve shown that the discipline of economics has not reached the stage at which it is possible to create universal principles. That is a waste of time, and I will not spend any more time thinking about it. But it isn’t just that there aren’t any universal principles. As Kuhn would point out, with so many schools of economics there is no platform from which to evaluate any principle. The various schools conflict with each other on every possible level, and there is no way to test any theory that will satisfy the proponents of the exact opposite theory.

The worst part is that the rich have a death grip on economic policy. They choose to support policies that benefit them at the expense of the rest of us, and they hide behind a veneer of economics professionals who say the things that they want to hear. Those people teach economics using textbooks like Mankiw’s and that of Samuelson and Nordhaus. They control policy, because they have taught the leaders of today.

This and the preceding series have been really depressing to me. There is a tiny ray of hope. Bernie Sanders is the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee. He appointed Stephanie Kelton as Chief Economist. She is the brilliant economist who chaired the Economics Department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and she is a noted scholar in the field of modern money theory. That is a completely different way forward, and one that works for progressives and frightens conservatives. That’s got to be a good thing.

Bernie Sanders Warns of the Rise of Nazis if the Fed Helps ECB Further Destabilize Greece

Bernie Sanders just wrote a letter to Fed Chair Janet Yellen asking why she is doing nothing as the European Central Bank destabilizes Greece’s newly elected Syriza government.

Several weeks ago the Greek people voted for a new government. This government canceled the privatization of key public assets, raised the minimum wage, and restored electricity to the needy. This government is seeking to restructure its relationship with the European Union to encourage economic growth in Greece and to escape from a deflationary cycle.

Recently, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it will no longer accept Greek official debt as collateral for loans to financial institutions in that country on the grounds that the new government is not following the dictates of the previous, failed policies. This move had an immediate destabilizing effect on the U.S. and world markets, and further moves could provoke a run on the Greek banking system in the days or weeks ahead.

The United States cannot stand idly by while the European Central Bank undermines the new democratically elected government of Greece, induces deflation and risks financial instability.  President Barack Obama was right when he recently noted, with regard to Greece: “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of a depression.  At some point, there has to be a growth strategy in order for them to pay off their debts to eliminate some of their deficits.”

It would be a terrible mistake for the world to forget what happens when a democratically-elected government, as was the case in Germany in the 1920s, is unable to relieve the severe economic suffering of its people.  We must remember that waiting in the wings should this recently elected Greek government fail is the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.  We cannot allow fascism to come to power in a European country due to our unwillingness to reverse harmful austerity policies.

I doubt it’ll do much good — Yves Smith has more on how the biases of the Fed make its tacit support for ECB unsurprising.

But I love that Sanders wrote such a letter and laid out the stakes so clearly. In both Greece and Ukraine, the US seems intent on pursuing counterproductive approaches, as if it can manage any unintended consequences. Except both countries are proof that the US and its allies have failed to be able to do so.

Austerity policies have failed in Europe, as they fail almost everywhere. And yet the elite seems intent on doubling down, as if their ideological beliefs can create a reality that has thus far failed to materialize.

Every Senator Who Supports USA Freedom May Be Affirmatively Ratifying a Financial Dragnet

Now that I’ve finally got around to reading the so-called transparency provisions in Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act, I understand that one purpose of the bill, from James Clapper’s perspective, is to get Congress to ratify some kind of financial dragnet conducted under Section 215.

As I’ve laid out in detail before, there’s absolutely no reason to believe USA Freedom Act does anything to affect non-communications collection programs.

That’s because the definition of “specific selection term” permits (corporate) persons to be used as a selector, so long as they aren’t communications companies. So Visa, Western Union, and Bank of America could all be used as the selector; Amazon could be for anything not cloud or communications-related. Even if the government obtained all the records from these companies — as reports say it does with Western Union, at least — that would not be considered “bulk” because the government defines “bulk” as collection without a selector. Here, the selector would be the company.

And as I just figured out yesterday, the bill requires absolutely no individualized reporting on traditional Section 215 orders that don’t obtain communications. Here’s what the bill requires DNI to report on traditional 215 collection.

(D) the total number of orders issued pursuant to applications made under section 501(b)(2)(B) and a good faith estimate of—
(i) the number of targets of such orders;
(ii) the number of individuals whose communications were collected pursuant to such orders; and
(iii) the number of individuals whose communications were collected pursuant to such orders who are reasonably believed to have been located in the United States at the time of collection;

The bill defines “individuals whose communications were collected” this way:

(3) INDIVIDUAL WHOSE COMMUNICATIONS WERE COLLECTED.—The term ‘individual whose communications were collected’ means any individual—
(A) who was a party to an electronic communication or a wire communication the contents or noncontents of which was collected; or
(B)(i) who was a subscriber or customer of an electronic communication service or remote computing service; and
(ii) whose records, as described in subparagraph (A), (B), (D), (E), or (F) of section 2703(c)(2) of title 18, United States Code, were collected.

Thus, the 215 reporting only requires the DNI to provide individualized reporting on communications related orders. It requires no individualized reporting at all on actual tangible things (in the tangible things provision!). A dragnet order collecting every American’s Visa bill would be reported as 1 order targeting the 4 or so terrorist groups specifically named in the primary order. It would not show that the order produced the records of 310 million Americans.

I’m guessing this is not a mistake, which is why I’m so certain there’s a financial dragnet the government is trying to hide.

Under the bill, of course, Visa and Western Union could decide they wanted to issue a privacy report. But I’m guessing if it would show 310 million to 310,000,500 of its customers’ privacy was being compromised, they would be unlikely to do that.

So the bill would permit the collection of all of Visa’s records (assuming the government could or has convinced the FISC to rubber stamp that, of course), and it would hide the extent of that collection because DNI is not required to report individualized collection numbers.

But it’s not just the language in the bill that amounts to ratification of such a dragnet.

As the government has argued over and over and over, every time Congress passes Section 215’s “relevant to” language unchanged, it serves as a ratification of the FISA Court’s crazy interpretation of it to mean “all.” That argument was pretty dodgy for reauthorizations that happened before Edward Snowden came along (though its dodginess did not prevent Clare Eagan, Mary McLaughlin, and William Pauley from buying it). But it is not dodgy now: Senators need to know that after they pass this bill, the government will argue to courts that it ratifies the legal interpretations publicly known about the program.

While the bill changes a great deal of language in Section 215, it still includes the “relevant to” language that now means “all.” So every Senator who votes for USAF will make it clear to judges that it is the intent of Congress for “relevant to” to mean “all.”

And it’s not just that! In voting for USAF, Senators would be ratifying all the other legal interpretations about dragnets that have been publicly released since Snowden’s leaks started.

That includes the horrible John Bates opinion from February 19, 2013 that authorized the government to use Section 215 to investigate Americans for their First Amendment protected activities so long as the larger investigation is targeted at people whose activities aren’t protected under the First Amendment. So Senators would be making it clear to judges their intent is to allow the government to conduct investigations into Americans for their speech or politics or religion in some cases (which cases those are is not entirely clear).

That also includes the John Bates opinion from November 23, 2010 that concluded that, “the Right to Financial Privacy Act, … does not preclude the issuance of an order requiring the production of financial records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) pursuant to the FISA business records provision.” Given that Senators know (or should — and certainly have the ability to — know) about this before they support USAF, judges would be correct in concluding that it was the intent of Congress to permit the government to collect financial records under Section 215.

So Senators supporting this bill must realize that supporting the bill means they are supporting the following:

  • The interpretation of “relevant to” to permit the government to collect all of a given kind of record in the name of a standing FBI terrorism investigation.
  • The use of non-communication company corporate person names, like Visa or Western Union, as the selector “limiting” collection.
  • The use of Section 215 to collect financial records.
  • Not requiring the government to report how many Americans get sucked up in any financial (or any non-communications) dragnet.

That is, Senators supporting this bill are not only supporting a possible financial dragnet, but they are helping the government hide the existence of it.

I can’t tell you what the dragnet entails. Perhaps it’s “only” the Western Union tracking reported by both the NYT and WSJ. Perhaps James Cole’s two discussions of being able to collect credit card records under this provision means they are. Though when Leahy asked him if they could collect credit card records to track fertilizer purchases, Cole suggested they might not need everyone’s credit cards to do that.

Leahy: But if our phone records are relevant, why wouldn’t our credit card records? Wouldn’t you like to know if somebody’s buying, um, what is the fertilizer used in bombs?

Cole: I may not need to collect everybody’s credit card records in order to do that.

[snip]

If somebody’s buying things that could be used to make bombs of course we would like to know that but we may not need to do it in this fashion.

We don’t know what the financial dragnet is. But we know that it is permitted — and deliberately hidden — under this bill.

Below the rule I’ve put the names of the 18 Senators who have thus far co-sponsored this bill. If one happens to be your Senator, it might be a good time to urge them to reconsider that support.


Patrick Leahy (202) 224-4242

Mike Lee (202) 224-5444

Dick Durbin (202) 224-2152

Dean Heller (202) 224-6244

Al Franken (202) 224-5641

Ted Cruz (202) 224-5922

Richard Blumenthal (202) 224-2823

Tom Udall (202) 224-6621

Chris Coons (202) 224-5042

Martin Heinrich (202) 224-5521

Ed Markey (202) 224-2742

Mazie Hirono (202) 224-6361

Amy Klobuchar (202) 224-3244

Sheldon Whitehouse (202) 224-2921

Chuck Schumer (202) 224-6542

Bernie Sanders (202) 224-5141

Cory Booker (202) 224-3224

Bob Menendez (202) 224-4744

Sherrod Brown (202) 224-2315

 

 

Congress Currently Has Access to the Phone Dragnet Query Results

When Bernie Sanders asked the NSA whether it spied on Members of Congress, Keith Alexander responded, in part,

Among those protections is the condition that NSA can query the metadata only based on phone numbers reasonably suspected to be associated with specific foreign terrorist groups. For that reason, NSA cannot lawfully search to determine if any records NSA has received under the program have included metadata of the phone calls of any member of Congress, other American elected officials, or any other American without that predicate.

Alexander’s response was dated January 10, 2014, one week after the current dragnet order was signed.

It’s an interesting response, because one of the changes made to the dragnet access rules with the January 3 order was to provide Congress access to the data for oversight reasons. Paragraph 3D reads, in part,

Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share the results from intelligence analysis queries of the BR metadata, including United States person information, with Legislative Branch personnel to facilitate lawful oversight functions.

This doesn’t actually mean Sanders (and Darrell Issa, Jerrold Nadler, and Jim Sensenbrenner, who sent a letter on just this issue yesterday) can just query up the database to find out if their records are in there. The legislature can only get query results — it can’t perform queries. And as of last week, all query identifiers have to be approved by the FISC.

Still, they might legitimately ask to see what is in the corporate store, the database including some or all past query results, which may include hundreds of millions of Americans’ call records. And Nadler and Sensenbrenner — as members of the Judiciary Committee — can legitimately claim to play an oversight role over the dragnet.

So why don’t they just ask to shop the corporate store, complete with all the US person data, as permitted by this dragnet order? While they’re at it, why not check to see if the 6 McClatchy journalists whose FOIA NSA just rejected have been dumped into the corporate store? (No, I don’t think giving Congress this access is wise, but since they have it, why not use it?)

Incidentally, this access for legislative personnel is not unprecedented. Starting on February 25, 2010 and lasting through 3 orders (so until October 29, 2010, though someone should check my work on this point) the dragnet orders included even broader language.

Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share certain information, as appropriate, derived from the BR metadata, including U.S. person identifying information, with Executive Branch and Legislative Branch personnel in order to enable them to fulfill their lawful oversight functions…

Of course at that point, most of Congress had no real understanding of what the dragnet is.

Now that they do, Nadler and Sensenbrenner should use the clear provision of the dragnet order as an opportunity to develop a better understanding of what happens to query results and how broadly they implicate average Americans’ privacy.

Update: Added short explanation of corporate store.

Dragnet at Bernie’s: On Spying on Congress

Bernie SandersIt turns out that Mark Kirk — not Bernie Sanders — was the first member of Congress to raise concerns about the NSA spying on Senators after Edward Snowden’s leaks started being published. Kirk did so less than a day after the Guardian published the Verizon order from the phone dragnet, in an Appropriations Committee hearing on the Department of Justice’s budget (see at 2:00). After Susan Collins raised the report in the context of drone killing, Kirk asked for assurances that members of Congress weren’t included in the dragnet.

Kirk: I want to just ask, could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored, of members of Congress, that would give a future Executive Branch if they started pulling this kind of thing up, would give them unique leverage over the legislature?

Holder: With all due respect, Senator, I don’t think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue–I’d be more than glad to come back in an appropriate setting to discuss the issues that you’ve raised but in this open forum–

Kirk: I’m going to interrupt you and say, the correct answer would say, no, we stayed within our lane and I’m assuring you we did not spy on members of Congress.

The first substantive question Congress asked about the dragnet was whether they were included in it.

After that, a few moments of chaos broke out, as other Senators — including NSA’s representative on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Barb Mikulski — joined in Kirk’s concerns, while suggesting the need for a full classified Senate briefing with the AG and NSA. Richard Shelby jumped in to say Mikulski should create the appropriate hearing, but repeated that what Senator Kirk asked was a very important question. Mikulski agreed that it’s the kind of question she’d like to ask herself. Kirk jumped in to raise further separation of powers concerns, given the possibility that SCOTUS had their data collected.

The very first concern members of Congress raised about the dragnet was how it would affect their power.

And then there was a classified briefing and …

… All that noble concern about separation of power melted away. And some of the same people who professed to have real concern became quite comfortable with the dragnet after all.

It’s in light of that sequence of events (along with Snowden’s claim that Members of Congress are exempt, and details about how data integrity analysts strip certain numbers out of the phone dragnet before anyone contact-chains on it) that led me to believe that NSA gave some assurances to Congress they need not worry that their power was threatened by the phone dragnet.

The best explanation from external appearances was that Congress got told their numbers got protection the average citizen’s did not, perhaps stripped out with all the pizza joints and telemarketers (that shouldn’t have alleviated their concerns, as some of that data has been found sitting on wayward servers with no explanation, but members of Congress can be dumb when they want to be).

And they were happy with the dragnet.

Then, 7 months later, Bernie Sanders started asking similar — but not the same –questions. In a letter to Keith Alexander, he raised several issues:

  • Phone calls made
  • Emails sent
  • Websites visited
  • Foreign leaders wiretapped

He even defined what he meant by spying.

“Spying” would include gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.

In response, Alexander rejected Sanders’ definition of spying (implicitly suggesting it wasn’t fair), while using a dodge he repeatedly has: the Americans in question are not being targeted, even while they might be collected “incidentally.”

Nothing NSA does can fairly be characterized as “spying on Members of Congress or other American elected officials.”

[snip]

NSA may not target any American for foreign intelligence collection without a finding of probable cause that the proposed target of collection is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. Moreover, as you are aware, whenever an NSA activity results in the incidental collection of information about Americans, that information is handled pursuant to the very robust procedures designed to protect privacy interests — procedures that must be approved by the Attorney general or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as appropriate. All those protections apply to members of Congress, as they do to all Americans.

Alexander then addressed just one of the three kinds of spying Sanders raised: phone data (which, if I’m right that NSA strips Congressional numbers at the data integrity stage, is the one place Alexander can be fairly sure Sanders’ contacts won’t be found).

Your letter focuses on NSA’s acquisition of telephone metadata…

And used the controls imposed on the raw data of the phone dragnet as an excuse for not answering Sanders’ question.

Among those protections is the condition that NSA can query the metadata only based on phone numbers reasonably suspected to be associated with specific foreign terrorist groups. For that reason, NSA cannot lawfully search to determine if any records NSA has received under the program have included metadata of the phone calls of any member of Congress, other American elected officials, or any other American without that predicate.

Alexander totally ignored Sanders’ two other specified concerns: emails sent and websites visited.

Which is mighty convenient, because for a very large segment of that collection (the internet metadata collected under EO 12333 and via PRISM, though not the data collected domestically before 2011 or domestic upstream collection), NSA believes it doesn’t even need Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to search on US person identifiers. Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV RT @NickdelaTorreGC: One week from today @GatorsBB will be back in action with Logan Shore on the mound. #Gators https://t.co/hUpHOp5YYe
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emptywheel RT @kgosztola: UK govt considers opening supermax prison just for "Islamist terrorists"; in other words, a British Gitmo https://t.co/ijQC5
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emptywheel RT @tedhartii: Alarming story from @the_intercept on how Missouri prisoners routinely had calls with lawyers recorded: https://t.co/glTIFrn
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bmaz RT @LOLGOP: Whoever is making Bernie Sanders' ads knows how to jack into a brain https://t.co/36c9N7em4x
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emptywheel "In 2015 avg household in top 1% received pension subsidies worth >$13K while avg bene for middle-class only $1K" https://t.co/zHZWx2H5XJ
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bmaz @MonaHol @EricMartin24 ...so be it. But the better the extent that any Clinton future can be brought left, the better. That's politics.
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bmaz @MonaHol @EricMartin24 Sanders may not have "experience" in FoPo, but at least what he has is not horrible. HRC will win, not Sanders...
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bmaz @MonaHol @EricMartin24 Well, I do not hate HRC. In fact, respect her in many ways. BUT, think she is effectively a status quo semi-neocon.
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bmaz @EricMartin24 Also, ugh.
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bmaz @EricMartin24 Me too. My wife constantly reminds me of that....
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bmaz @EricMartin24 Maybe! but you have a young child. Mine is quickly headed to graduate school. Being pissed off at election helps me feel pain.
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bmaz @EricMartin24 ...forces back then? Yes. The Obama hatred gestated out of that. And it was heinous. Still, her time then is not forgotten.
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