“Intelligence professionals have a saying: There are no friendly intelligence services,” the WSJ describes former House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers saying, on the record. While there’s no way of telling — particularly not with WSJ’s described “more than two dozen current and former U.S. intelligence and administration officials” sources behind it’s blockbuster story on US spying on Bibi Netanyahu and other Israelis, Rogers is a likely candidate for some of the other statements attributed to “former US officials,” a moniker that can include agency officials, consultants, and members of Congress.
Which is awfully funny, given that two of the people squealing most loudly in response to the story are Rogers’ immediate predecessor, Crazy Pete Hoekstra, who called it a “Maybe unprecedented abuse of power,” and successor, Devin Nunes, who has already started an investigation into the allegations in the story.
It is the height of hypocrisy for these men, who have been privy to and by their silence have assented to this and, in Crazy Pete’s case, far worse patently illegal spying, to wail about a story that shows the Administration abiding by NSA minimization procedures they’ve both celebrated as more than adequate to protect US person privacy. If NSA’s minimization procedures are inadequate to protect US persons, the first thing Nunes should do is repeal FISA Amendments Act, which can expose far more people than the tailored, presumably EO 12333 tap placed on Bibi, not to mention OmniCISA, which can be targeted at Americans and will have even fewer protections for US persons.
The immediate attempt by a bunch of surveillance maximalists to turn compliant spying into a big scandal raises the question of why this story is coming out now, not incidentally just after Iran turned over its uranium stockpile over to Russia and in the process achieved another big step of the Iran deal.
I’m not in any way meaning to slight the WSJ reporting. Indeed, the story seems to show a breadth of sources that reflect a broad range of interests, and as such is not — as would otherwise be possible — Mike Rogers attempting to leak something to the WSJ so his fellow Republicans can make a stink about things.
This story includes “current and former U.S. officials” providing a list of leaders they claim were detasked from spying in 2014 — François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and other NATO leaders — and those they claim were not — along with Bibi Netanyahu, Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Of course, like James Clapper’s claim that Edward Snowden’s leaks forced the NSA to shut down its full take spying on Afghanistan, this “confirmation” may instead have been an effort to cover for collection that has since been restarted, especially given the story’s even more revealing explanation that, “Instead of removing the [surveillance] implants, Mr. Obama decided to shut off the NSA’s monitoring of phone numbers and email addresses of certain allied leaders—a move that could be reversed by the president or his successor.” Obama did not eliminate the infrastructure that allows him to request surveillance (in actually, monitoring of surveillance going on in any case) to be turned on like a switch, and this WSJ article just conveyed that detail to Hollande and Merkel.
So the story could serve as disinformation to cover up restarted surveillance, and it could serve as a cue for the bogus, unbelievably hypocritical political scandal that Crazy Pete and Nunes appear to want to make it.
But I’m just as interested in the dick-waving in the story.
Some of the most interesting details in the story — once you get beyond the wailing of people like Crazy Pete and Devin Nunes probably swept up in intercepts described in the story — pertain to what NSA did and did not learn about Bibi’s efforts, largely executed through Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, to thwart the Iran deal. A key detail here is that while (it is implied) NSA destroyed most or all of the intercepts involving members of Congress directly with Bibi, they passed on (with US person identities masked) the reports back through foreign ministry channels of discussions with or on behalf of Bibi.
The NSA has leeway to collect and disseminate intercepted communications involving U.S. lawmakers if, for example, foreign ambassadors send messages to their foreign ministries that recount their private meetings or phone calls with members of Congress, current and former officials said.
“Either way, we got the same information,” a former official said, citing detailed reports prepared by the Israelis after exchanges with lawmakers.
In other words, NSA might not pass on the intercepts of calls members of Congress had with Bibi directly, but they would pass on the reports that Dermer or Bibi’s aides would summarize of such discussions. And according to “a former official” (curiously not described as high ranking) by passing on the reports of such conversations, “we got the same information.”
Usually, but not always, according to the story.
It describes that “Obama administration officials” (which may but probably doesn’t include intelligence officials) didn’t learn about John Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress ahead of time, even though Boehner extended that invite through Dermer.
On Jan. 8, John Boehner, then the Republican House Speaker, and incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed on a plan. They would invite Mr. Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress. A day later, Mr. Boehner called Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, to get Mr. Netanyahu’s agreement.
Despite NSA surveillance, Obama administration officials said they were caught off guard when Mr. Boehner announced the invitation on Jan. 21.
According to the description of the article, this call should have been fair game to be shared with the White House as a report through the foreign ministry, but either wasn’t reported through normal channels on the Israeli side or NSA didn’t pass it along.
But, according to the story, the White House did get many of the details about Dermer’s attempt to scotch the Iran deal.
The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal.
A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”
Let me interject and note that, if the people squealing about these intercepts weren’t such raging hypocrites, I might be very concerned about this.
Consider the Jane Harman case. In 2009 it got reported that NSA and FBI collected conversations Jane Harman had (probably on an individual FISA wiretap) with AIPAC suspects in which Harman allegedly agreed to help squelch the criminal investigation into the organization in exchange for help getting the Chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The position, not incidentally, that all the people (save Mike Rogers, who seems to have had no problem with them) squealing about these intercepts have held or currently hold. At least according to 2009 reports on this, lawyers in then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ DOJ considered criminal charges against Harman, but chose not to pursue them, because Gonzales — who had criminally, personally authorized the Stellar Wind program in March 2004 — needed Harman’s support in advance of NYT breaking the Stellar Wind story at the end of 2005. That suggests (if these stories are to be believed) Gonzales used Harman’s purported criminal exposure to get protection against his own.
Now, Crazy Pete was out of power well before these particular intercepts were described (though may have his own reason to be concerned about what such intercepts revealed), but in the same period, Devin Nunes got himself appointed HPSCI Chair, just like AIPAC was allegedly brokering with Harman. He got himself appointed HPSCI Chair by the guy, Boehner, who invited Bibi to address Congress.
And what were AIPAC and other groups — who allegedly were offering congressional leadership posts back in 2005 — offering lawmakers last year to oppose the Iran deal? “What’s it going to take?” the intercepts apparently recorded.
What were they offering?
This is the reason permitting lawmakers’ communications to be incidentally collected is such a risk — because it collects the sausage-making behind legislative stances — but also defensible — because it might disclose untoward quid pro quo by foreign governments of members of Congress. It is a real concern that the Executive is collecting details of Congress’ doings. More protections, both for Members of Congress and for regular schlubs, are needed. But wiretapping the incidentally collected communications with foreign leaders is not only solidly within the parameters of Congressionally-approved NSA spying, but may sometimes be important to protect the US.
That’s the kind of the thing the White House may have seen outlines of in the reports it got on Darmer’s attempts — though the report indicates that Democratic lawmakers and Israelis who supported the Iranian deal (probably including former Mossad head Efraim Halevy, who was criticizing Bibi and Darmer’s efforts in real time) were sharing details of Darmer’s efforts directly with the White House.
In the final months of the campaign, NSA intercepts yielded few surprises. Officials said the information reaffirmed what they heard directly from lawmakers and Israeli officials opposed to Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign—that the prime minister was focused on building opposition among Democratic lawmakers.
Which brings me to the dick-waving part. Here’s the last line of the WSJ story.
The NSA intercepts, however, revealed one surprise. Mr. Netanyahu and some of his allies voiced confidence they could win enough votes.
Some of this story is likely to be disinformation for our allies, much of this story seems to be warning (both friendly and unfriendly) to those likely implicated by the intercepts. But this just seems like dick-waving, the spook-and-politician equivalent of spiking the football and doing a lewd dance in the end zone. The Israelis surely knew all the monitoring was going on (even if members of Congress may have been stupid about them), especially given the way John Kerry, as laid out in the story, raised concerns about Israeli spying during negotiations. But this line, the final reveal in the story, mocks the Israelis and their American interlocutors for assuming they had enough to offer — “What’s it going to take to get your vote?”– to kill the Iran deal.
This may, in part, be an effort to get those implicated in the intercepts to exercise some more caution. But it also seems to be a victory dance, just as Russia ships away Iran’s uranium stockpiles.
In a profile in Politico, Justin Amash* makes the case that the Freedom Caucus’ rebellion against John Boehner isn’t so much about ideology, it is about process.
Republican leaders see Freedom Caucus members as a bunch of bomb-throwing ideologues with little interest in finding solutions that can pass a divided government.
But that’s a false reading of the group, Amash told his constituents. Their mission isn’t to drag Republican leadership to the right, though many of them would certainly favor more conservative outcomes. It’s simply to force them to follow the institution’s procedures, Amash argued.
That means allowing legislation and amendments to flow through committees in a deliberative way, and giving individual members a chance to offer amendments and to have their ideas voted on on the House floor. Instead of waiting until right before the latest legislative crisis erupts, then twisting members’ arms for votes, they argue, leadership must empower the rank and file on the front end and let the process work its will.
“In some cases, conservative outcomes will succeed. In other cases, liberal outcomes will succeed. And that’s OK,” said Amash, who was reelected overwhelmingly last year after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed his Republican primary rival. “We can have a House where different coalitions get together on different bills and pass legislation. And then we present that to the Senate and we present it to the White House.
The truth lies somewhere in-between. After all, 8 of the 21 questions the FC posed to potential Speaker candidates are ideological in nature, hitting on the following issues:
Admittedly, even some of those — the financial ones — are procedural, but there are some key ideological litmus tests there.
Of the remaining 21 questions, 3 pertain to use of NRCC resources, 4 pertain to conference make-up, and 6 have to do with process. In other words, this block of members wants to end the systematic exclusion of their members from leadership and other positions and the systematic suppression of legislation that might win a majority vote without leadership sanction.
And while I certainly recognize that some of these process reforms — again, especially the financial ones — would likely lead to more hostage taking, I also think such reforms would also make (as one example) stupid wars and surveillance less likely, because a transpartisan majority of the House opposes many such things while GOP leadership does not (Nancy Pelosi generally opposes stupid surveillance and wars but also usually, though not always, does the bidding of the President).
The Yoder-Polis Act, an ECPA reform bill supported by 300 co-sponsors, is an example of worthy legislation that has long been held up because of leadership opposition.
While making the case for reform, though, I’d like to make the suggestion for another: to boot Devin Nunes, the current Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. According to the House Republican rules, the only positions picked by the Speaker are Select Committee Chairs, which would include Nunes and Benghazi Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (the latter of whom seems to be taken care of with Republican after Republican now admitting the committee is just a hack job, though if the FC wants to call for Richard Hanna to take over as Chair to shut down this government waste, I’d be cool with that too).
But with Boehner on his way out, it seems fair to suggest that Nunes should go too. While Nunes was actually better on Benghazi than his predecessor (raising questions about the CIA’s involvement in gun-running), he has otherwise been a typical rubber stamp for the intelligence community, rushing to pass info-sharing with Department of Energy even while commenting on their shitty security practices, and pitching partisan briefings to give the IC one more opportunity to explain why the phone dragnet was more useful than all the independent reviews say it was.
The Intelligence Community has lost credibility since 9/11, and having a series of rubber stamp oversight Chairs (excepting Silvestre Reyes, who was actually reasonably good) has only exacerbated that credibility problem. So why not call for the appointment of someone like former state judge Ted Poe, who has experience with intelligence related issues on both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, but who has also been a staunch defender of the Constitution.
Hostage taking aside, I’m sympathetic to the argument that the House should adopt more inclusive rules, in part because it would undercut the problems of a two party duopoly serving DC conventional wisdom.
But no place in Congress needs to be reformed more than our intelligence oversight. And while picking a more independent Chair won’t revamp the legal structure of intelligence oversight, it might initiate a process of bringing more rigorous oversight to our nation’s intelligence agencies.
Of course, who am I kidding?!?! It’s not even clear that the GOP will succeed in finding a palatable Speaker candidate before Boehner retires. Throwing HPSCI Chair into the mix would likely be too much to ask. Nevertheless, as we discuss change and process, HPSCI is definitely one area where we could improve process to benefit the country.
*Amash is my congressperson, but I have not spoken to him or anyone else associated with him for this post and don’t even know if he’d support this suggestion.
Pope Francis just finished his address to Congress. It was a masterful speech from a political standpoint, designed to hold a mirror up to America and provide a moral lesson.
He started with an appeal the most conservative in America would applaud, to the foundation of Judeo-Christian law (CSPAN panned to the Moses relief in the chamber as he spoke).
Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
He then couched his lessons in a tribute to four Americans — two uncontroversial, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr — and two more radical, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton (but probably obscure to those who would be most offended).
Several times he nodded towards controversial issues, as when he addressed making peace in terms that might relate to Cuba (controversial but still accepted by most who aren’t Cuban-American) or might relate to Iran.
I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).
Similarly, he spoke of the threats to the family in such a way that might include gay marriage, but he then focused on the inability of young people to form new families.
I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
By far the shrewdest rhetorical move the Pope made — standing just feet from the Catholic swing vote on the Supreme Court, Anthony Kennedy, as well as John Roberts (Catholic Justices Sam Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia, all blew off the speech given by the leader of their faith), with the Catholic Vice President and Speaker sitting just behind — calling to “defend life at every stage of its development.” — This brought one of the biggest standing ovations of the speech (though Justices never applaud at these things and did not here), at which point the Pope pivoted immediately to ending the death penalty.
The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
I hope the Pope’s general pro life call, emphasizing the death penalty rather than abortion, will get people who claim to be pro-life to consider all that that entails.
That led — past his expected appeal to stop shitting on Eden and start taking care of the poor — to what was probably the worst received line in the speech, a call to stop trafficking in arms.
Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
The Pope went into a Chamber where large numbers are funded by arms merchants and told them they were relying on “money that is drenched in blood.” Very few applauded that line.
Still, the message was about the duty of legislators to serve the common good and on several issues, the Pope avoided directed confrontation, preferring an oblique message that might be interpreted differently by people of all political stripes. Amid the rancor of Congressional debates — about Planned Parenthood, about defunding government (and with it, harming the poor the most), about Iran — it was a remarkably astute message.
The current, woeful state of the Iraqi military raises the question not so much of whether the Americans left too soon, but whether a new round of deployments for training will have any more effect than the last.
Yes, indeed. We already know that all of the previous rounds of training Iraqi troops failed miserably. That indisputable fact allows Nordland to pose the question of whether this new round of training could be expected to somehow be successful after all those failures. Since the article offers no description of any changes in strategy or methods in this new round of training, it’s hard to see how the answer is anything other than a strong probability that this round of training also will fail.
The catastrophic demise of Iraq’s forces is staggering with the numbers Nordland presents. At its peak, the Iraqi military numbered 280,000. And yet once ISIS advanced, the melting away of multiple whole divisions of troops whittled Iraq down to a force that perhaps was as low as only 50,000. This current training effort, being carried out by 3000 US forces, is expected to add, at best, 30,000 Iraqi troops. Nordland admits, however, that the number is likely to be “far fewer”. Despite this depressing math, Nordland doesn’t get around to pointing out just how little impact such a small increase in Iraqi forces is likely to have even if their training somehow turned out to be successful.
But don’t despair. Our intrepid Speaker of the House is on duty to make sure that we continue repeating our training failures:
Boehner blamed “artificial constraints” on the 4,500 American trainers and advisers to the Iraqi army, suggesting that a slight increase in U.S. troops could occur if the Pentagon’s commanders suggested they were needed to help direct fighting against Islamic State forces. “They’re only there to train and advise the Iraqi army, and the fact is it’s just that – training and advising,” he said, dismissing fears that his proposal would lead to tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops locked in another bloody ground war.
“There’s more that we can do, with limited risk, and it wouldn’t require that many more people,” the speaker said.
“Please,” Boehner seems to be saying, “Let’s get back to a full war in Iraq, but without calling it war.” Presumably because the last one worked out so well.
Postscript: Marcy has been the one tracking maneuvers around the issue of an AUMF (even as recently as yesterday), but the Boehner quote above comes from a larger article about a possible new Iraq AUMF. Boehner is fighting Obama’s proposed AUMF. But he’s fighting it because he doesn’t want Obama to give back some of the unlimited war powers of the Executive:
“Until the president gets serious about fighting the fight, until he has a strategy that makes sense, there’s no reason for us to give him less authority than what he has today, which is what he’s asking for,” Boehner told a group of reporters Tuesday, following his trip with lawmakers to several Middle East hot spots during the congressional recess.
Take that, Mr. President. We won’t give you authority for this war until you ask for even more unfettered power than we already grant you!
As you no doubt know, Democrats got shellacked yesterday. Not only did they lose the Senate in spectacular fashion, but Jim and I are stuck with our shitty Republican governors. Locally, the GOP succeeded in term-limiting our Mayor who wins with 80% of the vote.
Steve Vladeck has a post considering how this will affect national security politics. I agree with his ultimate conclusion:
Thus, the real question that I think yesterday’s results raise for national security policy in the 114th Congress is not what this “genuine debate about how best to preserve constitutional values while protecting the Nation from terrorism” will look like, but rather whether the absence of such a debate (which seems increasingly likely) will indeed provoke courts to play the more aggressive role to which Justice Kennedy alluded.
But along the way, Vladeck makes a grave category error by suggesting that Ted Cruz is a libertarian.
Although the realignment thesis requires decent support from the wings of both parties, the consequences of yesterday’s results are to put the focus squarely on how libertarian Republicans approach national security policy–since theirs is the party in power in both chambers. With that in mind, consider Senator Ted Cruz’s fairly remarkable unwillingness to openly endorse Senator Mitch McConnell as majority leader. Whatever that portends with respect to the leadership race, it suggests at the very least that, on some issues, the more libertarian wing of the Republican party may not exactly fall into lockstep with the party’s more moderate elements. And while that was an intriguing enough phenomenon when Republicans only controlled the House, how that plays out when Republicans control both sides of the Capitol will be very interesting to watch.
Ted Cruz is a dangerous narcissistic authoritarian piggybacking on Tea Party popularity and amorphousness to advance his own career. He is not a libertarian.
There are, to be sure, some libertarian senators. Along with Mike Lee and Dean Heller, who get little notice, Rand Paul has learned how better to use Senate procedure to advance libertarian aims. (One piece of evidence that Cruz is not a libertarian is that both he and Paul appear to be running for President, making it clear they don’t have the same agenda.)
That said, one of the most interesting aspects of this election is that Paul did some real campaigning for authoritarian hack Pat Roberts, lending him his Tea Party cred.
Ted Cruz, however, was not out campaigning. Update: According to this, Cruz also campaigned for Roberts.
But the question of how having Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst in the Senate has little to do with their politics, in my opinion.
They have a lot more to do with the difference between Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.
John Boehner is an ineffective leader whose attempt to discipline his party ended up creating leaders who had little to lose.
Mitch McConnell is not an ineffective leader. He has long been able to demand discipline.
Perhaps the best indicator of that is what happened when Jeff Flake, who was superb on civil liberties in the House, moved to the Senate. He’s terrible on those issues now. Pretty much runs and hides in a corner, whimpering, when such issues come up. I’m not sure how Mitch did it, but he managed to neutralize someone who challenged GOP authoritarianism. Completely. I expect the same of Cory Gardner (though will be happy to be proven wrong).
In any case, I would be shocked if Mitch made the error of putting someone like Gardner (or Paul) in one of the at least 3 new Republican slots that will open up on the Intelligence Committee.
The story of the next two years will be about what Mitch — and his heavy discipline — wants to accomplish in the Senate, not about what a few libertarians or pseudo-libertarians want.
Some of the more than 300,000 residents of West Virginia who could not drink or bathe in their tap water derived from the Elk River have been told that it is now safe to do so. Considering how flawed the process was for coming up with the standard for a safe level of the contaminant, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), it should come as no surprise that residents are not buying the claim that the water is now safe:
Eric Foster got the call last night. West Virginia American Water said the water at his South Charleston home is safe.
But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to use it again.
“The water smells like licorice, and I don’t really think that’s safe,” Foster said. “I’ll never drink it again.”
Five days after a chemical spill into the Elk River left water unusable for 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers in nine counties, some residents are still wary of using the water even after officials say it’s safe again.
Water company and state officials say the water consistently tested below 1 part per million of the chemical, and have been lifting the water-use ban zone by zone. Six zones, mostly in Charleston and South Charleston, had been lifted as of Tuesday evening.
Here’s a summary of the flawed process for coming to that one part per million “safe” standard:
Unfortunately, the science behind this standard remains unclear. Based on what we do know, there are good reasons to believe that officials are overlooking significant health risks.
We know, for example, that the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that officials say they are using as their primary source lacks any information about chronic health impacts. The major federal databases we consulted suggest such data simply do not exist for this chemical.
It also appears that officials made significant leaps in their calculation of a “safe” exposure level – including assumptions that deviate from generally accepted practices. As a result, these estimates fail to adequately account for either acute or chronic health effects from ongoing exposure to water contaminated at the 1 ppm level.
At a bare minimum, the public deserves to know a lot more about the calculations behind officials’ insistence that a 1 ppm level in drinking water is safe.
But how did we get to this situation in the first place? The event that caused the ongoing contamination of the Elk River was a leak of thousands of gallons of MCHM from a facility owned by a company with the wonderfully Galtian name of Freedom Industries. Of course there is a bald eagle anchoring their website! Would you expect anything else?
How is the chemical used? It is used to perpetuate the myth of “clean coal”. Our government is even a leading crusader for this myth and boasts a nifty gif to show us how coal can be “cleaned”.
One of the main methods of producing “clean coal” is to remove particles of sulfur. From the DOE website with the nifty gif:
Take sulfur, for example. Sulfur is a yellowish substance that exists in tiny amounts in coal. In some coals found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other eastern states, sulfur makes up from 3 to 10 percent of the weight of coal.
One way is to clean the coal before it arrives at the power plant. One of the ways this is done is by simply crushing the coal into small chunks and washing it. Some of the sulfur that exists in tiny specks in coal (called “pyritic sulfur ” because it is combined with iron to form iron pyrite, otherwise known as “fool’s gold) can be washed out of the coal in this manner. Typically, in one washing process, the coal chunks are fed into a large water-filled tank. The coal floats to the surface while the sulfur impurities sink. There are facilities around the country called “coal preparation plants” that clean coal this way.
The reaction from members of Congress to the revelation that the Section 215 surveillance was just as bad as some of us have been warning has varied, with Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss reiterating claims about the value and oversight of the program (though not having any idea, according to DiFi, whether it has prevented any attacks), and Ron Wyden and Mark Udall effectively saying “I told you so.” John Boehner dodged aggressively, suggesting even though he had approved this surveillance President Obama had to explain it.
Asked whether lawmakers should answer for an order that fell under the Patriot Act they passed, Boehner disagreed. “The tools were given to the administration, and it’s the administration’s responsibility to explain how these tools are used,” he said. ”I’ll leave it to them to explain.”
By far the most disingenuous, however, was Jim Sensenbrenner, who (as he has emphasized to the credulous journalists who served as his stenographers today) wrote the PATRIOT Act, who has remained in a senior position on House Judiciary Committee since that day, and who now claims to be shocked — shocked! — there is dragnet collection going on in the casino he built.
Predictably, he wrote a letter demanding to know how a law he has fought to retain its current form could be used to do what the law authorizes.
In the letter, Sensenbrenner de-emphasizes the role of the relevance standard to the collection.
To obtain a business records order from the court, the Patriot Act requires the government to show that: (1) it is seeking the information in certain authorized national security investigations pursuant to guidelines approved by the Attorney General; (2) if the investigative target is a U.S. person, the investigation is not based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment; and (3) the information sought is relevant to the authorized investigation.
Compare that to the letter of the law, which requires the government to show,
(A) a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain to—
(i) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;
(ii) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or
(iii) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation;
That is, the emphasis is not on the investigation, as Sensenbrenner’s interpretation would have it, but on the relevance of the information sought, which Sensenbrenner adds third. More importantly, Sensenbrenner omits all mention of the presumptively relevant conditions — basically something pertaining to a foreign power.
With his interpretation, Sensenbrenner has omitted something baked into Section 215, which is that so long as the government says this pertains to foreign spies or terrorists, the judge has almost no discretion on whether information is relevant to an investigation.
Then Sensenbrenner points to 2011 testimony from Acting Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen, who he claims said the following:
Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like. It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records. . . On average, we seek and obtain section 215 ordersless than 40 times per year
Which Sensenbrenner uses to claim the Department never told the Committee about this dragnet.
The Department’s testimony left the Committee with the impression that the Administration was using the business records provision sparingly and for specific materials. The recently released FISA order, however, could not have been drafted more broadly.
As it happens, Hinnen has been testifying since at least 2009 that Section 215 authorizes other secret programs. So I checked Sensenbrenner’s work. Here’s what that precise passage of Hinnen’s testimony says, without the deceitful ellipsis.
Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like. It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records. Some orders have also been used to support important and highly sensitive intelligence collection operations, on which this committee and others have been separately briefed. On average, we seek and obtain section 215 ordersless than 40 times per year. [my emphasis]
In other words, Sensenbrenner points to doctored proof he has been briefed on this secret program, but doctors it in such a way as to support his claim he never knew about this.
Not to mention that a series of DOJ Inspector General reports included classified appendices describing these secret collection operations.
Back when the 2016 GOP nomination kicked off (a good 5 days before Mitt got around to losing officially), here’s one way Paul Ryan’s anonymous advisors envisioned insulating his Presidential ambitions from any damaging votes: quitting.
They say that if he fails, Ryan’s instincts will be to return to the House — he is running for re-election to his House seat at the same time he’s Romney’s running mate — and resume his role as Budget Committee chairman.
Some senior Republicans caution it might not be that easy.
If Romney loses, Ryan will be seen as a leading White House contender in 2016. He will be a national party figure even without being a top member of the House leadership. That could breed resentment among current Republican leaders and perhaps splinter coalitions within the already fractured GOP alliances at the top of the House.
A return also would make Ryan a leading target for Democrats. For the next few years, Democrats would lay traps in legislation, forcing him to take sides on measures that could come back to haunt him during a presidential bid.
That is why some of Ryan’s biggest boosters are considering whether it wouldn’t be better for Ryan to resign from the House.
Never mind the delusion that suggests Ryan would be that enticing a target for Democrats. It gave Ryan’s advisors an excuse to advocate he quit before he has to cast anymore unpopular votes.
Speaker John A. Boehner has tapped Mr. Ryan, who has returned to his post as the House Budget Committee chairman after an unsuccessful run for vice president, to help strike a deal to avoid big tax increases and spending cuts by the end of the year, and to bring along fellow Republicans.
“He helps us toward creating a product,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, “and he helps sell the product.”
The test will be whether Mr. Ryan — who declined last year to sit on another Congressional committee charged with taming the deficit, in large part because doing so might have hurt his prospects for national office — can make the transition from House budget philosopher to governing heavyweight who can help negotiate a bipartisan deal and sell it to his colleagues.
With his new muscle and increased respect from his colleagues, Mr. Ryan could conceivably scuttle any deal if he loudly opposes a solution that the speaker and the top Republican leaders embrace. But his conservative base might rebel against him if he were to endorse any deal seen as awarding too much to Mr. Obama and the Democrats, particularly on tax rates. Some Republicans think the pitfalls are dangerous enough that Mr. Ryan might consider leaving Congress altogether to work on his policy agenda without the inherent headaches of the Hill.
“He has to think about what he wants his role to be,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “Is he going to run in 2016, or run for something else in Wisconsin, or play a bigger role in the House? He’s going to play an outsize role here because of the national profile he now has, but on the other hand, this conference is quite happy to act independently.” [my emphasis]
The implication being that if he plans to run in 2016, Ryan can’t stick around and–with a vote in favor of a “Grand Bargain”–compromise his governing ideology by admitting does not support a functioning government. Elsewhere, the article notes how much fun he and his wife had visting her grandmother’s home in Iowa.
In other words, he clearly plans to run.
Which leaves the question whether he truly agrees with these anonymous and on-the-record sources advising him to quit if he plans to run for President.
I guess he plans to follow the successful path of President Palin, then, even if he can’t run a marathon as fast as she can.
I just wonder what his Hollywood reality show will be called.
We’ll have to come back to the issue of why President Obama decided to use his recess authority to appoint Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board but not Dawn Johnsen or Elizabeth Warren. But for now, I’d like to collect the wails of Republican outrage.
Shorter John Boehner: Protecting consumers from rapacious banks is an extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab! Protecting consumers is bad for the economy!
Shorter Mitch McConnell: Obama has arrogantly circumvented the American people by protecting the American people!
Shorter Orrin Hatch: It is a very grave decision by this heavy-handed, autocratic White House to appoint someone to protect consumers. The American people deserve to be treated with more respect than this White House is affording them by protecting them from the banks!
Shorter Spencer Bachus: Appointing a director to the CFPB will cripple it for years. The greatest threat to our economy right now is uncertainty, and by protecting consumers the President just guaranteed there will be even more uncertainty.
The claim that the Federal Reserve is insulated from politics has always been a farce. Greenspan did a number of ideologically inconsistent things that just happened to help Republicans. And given that the banks run the Fed, it would be impossible to say it is isolated from the politics of the MOTUs (which is increasingly the politics of Congress, anyway).
Nevertheless, when a transpartisan group threatened to require Fed audits during the Dodd-Frank debates, people on both sides of the aisle objected because it would politicize the Fed.
No such worries for the top four Republicans, I guess.
Dear Chairman Bernanke,
It is our understanding that the Board Members of the Federal Reserve will meet later this week to consider additional monetary stimulus proposals. We write to express our reservations about any such measures. Respectfully, we submit that the board should resist further extraordinary intervention in the U.S. economy, particularly without a clear articulation of the goals of such a policy, direction for success, ample data proving a case for economic action and quantifiable benefits to the American people.
It is not clear that the recent round of quantitative easing undertaken by the Federal Reserve has facilitated economic growth or reduced the unemployment rate. To the contrary, there has been significant concern expressed by Federal Reserve Board Members, academics, business leaders, Members of Congress and the public. Although the goal of quantitative easing was, in part, to stabilize the price level against deflationary fears, the Federal Reserve’s actions have likely led to more fluctuations and uncertainty in our already weak economy.
We have serious concerns that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the U.S. economy. Such steps may erode the already weakened U.S. dollar or promote more borrowing by overleveraged consumers. To date, we have seen no evidence that further monetary stimulus will create jobs or provide a sustainable path towards economic recovery.
Ultimately, the American economy is driven by the confidence of consumers and investors and the innovations of its workers. The American people have reason to be skeptical of the Federal Reserve vastly increasing its role in the economy if measurable outcomes cannot be demonstrated.
We respectfully request that a copy of this letter be shared with each Member of the Board.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Rep. John Boehner, Sen. Jon Kyl, Rep. Eric Cantor
Especially nice is that McConnell’s signature is first. You know, the guy who has said his single most important goal is to make Obama a one-term President?
To be fair, there are reasons to oppose QE3, which is the most likely form any Fed intervention would take. Masaccio described last year, for example, how it hurts savers. So it’s not that I’m sure QE3 would do anything but goose the stock market. But I am shocked that more people aren’t objecting to this naked political ploy.
Further, these Republicans pretend that the Fed doesn’t already have a clear mandate to do something about the economy. Mind you, the Fed has mostly forgotten itself that, in addition to “maintaining stable prices” it is supposed to achieve maximum employment. But it is part of its charter to pursue policies that will bring unemployment down from 10%.
That seems to be precisely what the Republican leadership is trying to prevent.
These boys have blatantly broken one of the rules of the Village, which is that it at least pretend that politics is not directing the Fed. Thus far, though, the Village wailers have not yet commented on it.
Update: Now that I note the coincidence, I wonder whether Lamar Alexander’s letter announcing he was stepping down from his leadership position–sent the same day as the leadership letter to Bernanke–is more than a coincidence. After all, the decision amounted to an admission that Republican partisanship was impeding actual useful policy. His letter focused on the Senate, mind you, not on inappropriate interventions in the Fed. Still, I wonder whether this was a factor?