Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
Kevin Drum’s right: there’s something wrong with this picture.
The NBC/WSJ poll found that the American public had these priorities for the new Congress (in order):
- Access to lower cost student loans–80% support.
- Increase spending on infrastructure–75%
- Raising the minimum wage–65%
- Emergency funding for fighting Ebola in Africa–60%
- Addressing climate change/reducing carbon emissions–59%
- Building Keystone Pipeline–54%
The GOP, which will control both houses of Congress, has listed its own priorities:
- Authorize Keystone Pipeline.
- Repeal ACA (“Obamacare”)
- Pass the “Hire More Heroes” (veterans) Act.
- Pass Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Asia.
- Lower corporate taxes.
- Thwarting Obama on Immigration Executive Action.
- Reign in the EPA and roll back environmental regulations.
Elections have consequences, and not voting is a dumb choice.
More information in this Daily Kos post.
Very interesting column by Justyn Dillingham in Salon. If RFK, Jr’s thought is true—that domestic opponents were behind it—those would been very powerful people, and those not only have great influence, it turns out that they cannot be touched when they are flagrantly guilty of war crimes: I’m referring, of course, to the open acknowledgement that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney instituted a program of kidnapping and torture. It’s very well known, and we even know those directly in the chain of command. But not only are no steps taken to hold accountable those responsible, President Obama will not even release the Senate committee’s own report of its investigations: the very body charged with oversight of this stuff.
And it’s all done quite openly.
What happens when the old norm is destroyed, a new norm is created. Reckless alteration generally is not an improvement. For example, Fox News broke the norm that a news channel is mostly non-partisan and instead became fiercely partisan, to the extent of broadcasting outright fabrications (without subsequent correction). The news channel had become a propaganda channel: not a breaking of rules, but of norms.
Thus we left the ideal of nonpartisan, accurate, reliable, fact- and evidence-based news. News became overtly a matter of agendas—at least more overtly than previously.
Now we see that the Congressional Budget Office, which has been the source of reliable, non-partisan information on budgets and budget projections (including estimating cost of legislation) is going to become a politicized, partisan—much like the change in the Supreme Court, come to think of it. The conservative majority hasn’t hesitated to ignore precedence (and experience and evidence) in arriving at partisan decisions—e.g., gutting the Voting Rights Act.
Elias Isquith writes in Salon:
As a rule, I try not to write about hypocrisy in politics. It’s such a constant, such a fact of life, that it can feel a bit like complaining about traffic or the weather.
But just as there’s a difference between waiting an extra 20 minutes during rush hour and being stranded in your car for five days — or between a typical snowstorm and what’s happening currently in Buffalo — there’s a difference between the routine hypocrisy of politics and the kind we saw this week from Republicans in the House. One kind is an annoyance to be quickly forgotten; the other leaves a mark.
Before getting into why they’re so egregious, however, let’s pause to recap the Congressional GOP’s recent machinations.
Aware no doubt of how President Obama’s announcement this week on immigration reform would dominate both the media and the public’s attention, Republicans in the House, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, have been working to make sure the next head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) — which acts as Congress’s honest broker when it comes to scoring fiscal policy — is not a nonpartisan technocrat, as has usually been the case, but rather a loyal member of the conservative movement. And, as former CBO chief Peter Orszag recently explained, because the CBO has no institutional protections from partisan hackery, and maintains its integrity mostly through tradition, there’s precious little anyone can do to stop them.
While there are no doubt many changes ideologues like Ryan would like to see the CBO make, reports indicate that the main reason GOPers want to install a right-wing hack as its chief is in order to make the agency integrate “dynamic scoring” more fully into its estimations. “Dynamic scoring,” for those who don’t know, is a phrase conservatives like to use to give a tenet of their anti-tax religion — lower taxes lead to more revenue! — an intellectual gloss. More importantly, dynamic scoring is generally the special sauce right-wing “wonks” put into their projections in order to claim that massively cutting taxes on the rich won’t lead to fiscal ruin. Remember the absurd claim that Bush’s tax cuts wouldn’t explode deficits? Thank dynamic scoring for that.
So that’s what’s happening under the radar with the CBO. And if that were the whole story, it’d probably fall under into the “routine traffic and weather” category of hypocrisy I mentioned earlier. What makes this more of a Buffalo snowstorm-level problem is the context — specifically, the fact that Republicans are destroying yet another norm of American politics, the nonpartisan CBO, at the very same time that they’re waging a relentless and disingenuous campaign to persuade the media (and thus the American people) that the way the Affordable Care Act was written was a breach of democratic norms without precedent.
Yes, this is where “Grubergate,” the most recent of the GOP’s seemingly endless supply of manufactured outrages, comes in. . .
Basically, the GOP is going to wreck one of the navigation instruments by which we chart the course of government.
As Kevin Drum notes, the GOP Congressional committee that investigated Benghazi for two years released its report late on a Friday afternoon—the traditional time for releasing bad news—because, apparently, in their view the report was bad news: no wrong-doing of any sort; no conspiracy; no hiding of terrible secrets. I wonder if Lara Logan will note this.
For two years, ever since Mitt Romney screwed up his response to the Benghazi attacks in order to score campaign points, Republicans have been on an endless search for a grand conspiracy theory that explains how it all happened. Intelligence was ignored because it would have been inconvenient to the White House to acknowledge it. Hillary Clinton’s State Department bungled the response to the initial protests in Cairo. Both State and CIA bungled the military response to the attacks themselves. Even so, rescue was still possible, but it was derailed by a stand down order—possibly from President Obama himself. The talking points after the attack were deliberately twisted for political reasons. Dissenters who tried to tell us what really happened were harshly punished.
Is any of this true? The House Select Intelligence Committee—controlled by Republicans—has been investigating the Benghazi attacks in minute detail for two years. Today, with the midterm elections safely past, they issued their findings. Their exoneration of the White House was sweeping and nearly absolute. So sweeping that I want to quote directly from the report’s summary, rather than paraphrasing it. Here it is:
- The Committee first concludes that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi….Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support….
- Second, the Committee finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks. In the months prior, the IC provided intelligence about previous attacks and the increased threat environment in Benghazi, but the IC did not have specific, tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.
- Third, the Committee finds that a mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with Al Qa’ida, participated in the attacks….
- Fourth, the Committee concludes that after the attacks, the early intelligence assessments and the Administration’s initial public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attacks were not fully accurate….There was no protest.The CIA only changed its initial assessment about a protest on September 24, 2012, when closed caption television footage became available on September 18, 2012 (two days after Ambassador Susan Rice spoke)….
- Fifth, . . .
And William Douglas of McClatchy has a report as well:
The Obama administration didn’t issue ‘stand down’ orders to security forces at the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya or knowingly give erroneous details about the incident to the public, a quietly-released report by the House Intelligence Committee concluded Friday.
The two-year investigation by the bipartisan panel shoots down a series of conspiracy theories and cover-up claims. It’s the fourth congressional committee to reach similar conclusions.
‘The report has endeavored to make the facts and conclusions within this report widely and publicly available so that the American public can separate the actual facts from the swirl of rumors and unsupported allegations,’ the report stated in its findings.
It debunks talk that the administration ordered CIA and security forces at the compound to ‘stand down’ during that attacks that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. . .
UPDATE: And ThinkProgress has a good report on the findings of the committee:
Two years ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives commissioned a House Intelligence Committee investigation into the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Benghazi. While failures of security were acknowledged by the administration, the investigation was one of many formed with the intent to prove some conspiracy theories about the incident, including a supposed high-ranking order for the CIA tostand down in the midst of the attack.
But the latest report, released Friday, does little to back up Republicans’ suspicion of negligence, and it finds no intelligence failure on the part of the CIA.
The investigative report is authored on the right by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and the left by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD). Rogers previewed the report during a Fox News this September when he smacked down one of the leading right-wing theories, that the State Department issued a stand-down order before the attack. “It was the commander on the ground making the decision,” Rogers explained at the time. “I think it took 23 minutes before they all, including that commander, by the way, got in a car and went over and rescued those individuals.”
The report also disproves other conspiracy theories about that tragic night, including . . .
In ThinkProgress, Bryce Cover has a summary report of what strikes me as a new and mean-spirited attitude:
First grader Xavier says that when the lunch lady at his Snohomish County School District school was recently handing out bagged lunches to all the students, she told him, “Guess what, you can’t have a lunch.”
His father says Xavier is on the school lunch program, but he was sent home without eating and with a slip saying he had a negative lunch balance.
A school spokesperson told Q13 Fox News that if a student’s account goes $20 or more into the red, he should still get a cheese sandwich, a drink, and unlimited fruits and vegetables. But Xavier says he didn’t get anything to eat, and his father argues that this shouldn’t apply to his son anyway since he gets federally funded lunches. “My question was never answered as to why he was denied,” he said.
“It happened to me as a child and I can still feel that hurt and I can only imagine what he went through,” Xavier’s dad said. “It made me feel really bad for him. That’s not right. That’s like saying, ‘Hey, you don’t have your book bag so you can’t have your education.’ You can’t do that. Feed them. They need to eat. They need to concentrate. They can’t concentrate without eating. I just don’t want this to happen to any other kid. It’s hurtful.”
But these kinds of incidents are not uncommon. A school in Utah threw out about 40 elementary students’ lunches because their parents were behind on payments. [Threw out the food rather than have the children eat it! I thought Utah was religious. – LG] A school in Texas threw out a student’s breakfast because his account was 30 cents short. [Again: better to destroy food than allow children to eat it. - LG] Those who get free lunches have also been humiliated, as students in a Colorado school who had their hands stamped in front of better off classmates. A Congressman even floated the idea that students who get free meals should be made to earn them by sweeping school floors.
Some school districts are taking a different approach that could do away with hunger problems, public shaming, and fights over account balances altogether. They’re participating in a federal program that allows them to give all students in the district free breakfast and lunch, regardless of income. So far districts in Boston, Chicago,Dallas, Indianapolis, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina have signed up, and New York City has explored the idea. The change reduces paperwork for parents and for schools, which reduces costs, while it also helps parents who had originally fallen just outside income eligibility limits.
It also addresses the hunger crisis in America’s schools. Three-quarters of the country’s teachers say they have students regularly showing up to class hungry. More than one in five children live in a food insecure household. Hunger has a particular impact on the young, as it can hamper their cognitive and social development and puts them at greater risk of mental illness. If more students got free breakfast, it would mean a significant boost to test scores and graduation rates and a drop in absences.
In districts that haven’t enrolled in the federal meals program, however, some private citizens have stepped in. A man in Texas paid off students’ balances so they could keep eating full meals. A first grade teacher in New Mexico started a program to send students home with backpacks full of food.
There is something seriously wrong with the attitude reflected in these stories.
What Snowden has revealed is crucial to our understanding: he shows how the currents of the country are shaped and channeled by the underwater rocks, as it were, of the security apparatus, and reveals those forces to us. David Bromwich writes in the NY Review of Books:
a film directed by Laura Poitras
At some point in the chase that led the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras from America to Berlin and finally to the hotel room in Hong Kong where she would meet the whistle-blower who identified himself as “Citizenfour,” her unnamed informant sent this warning: “I will likely immediately be implicated. This must not deter you.”
What did he offer in return for the risk he hoped she would take? The answer was compelling. He knew things that the American public ought to know. The director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, had “lied to Congress, which I can prove.” Alexander denied under oath that the NSA had ever engaged in the mass surveillance of Americans that was then going forward under the codenames PRISMand XKeyscore. Citizenfour could also demonstrate that General James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, came no closer than General Alexander to telling the truth. When asked, under oath, by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon whether the NSAcollects data on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Clapper had answered: “Not wittingly.”
Clapper’s statement was false in every possible sense of the words “not” and “wittingly.” [And yet Obama leaves him in office, while doing everything a president can to stifle the Senate’s report on the US program of kidnapping and torture—either Obama is in the grip of the security apparatus, or he is a part of it. His constant appointment of Wall Street insiders to regulatory agencies is a clue: this is not the president we were promised. – LG] The agency was indeed collecting data, it was doing so in accordance with a plan, and the director had ordered no halt to the mass collection. The extraction of private information about Americans without our consent seems to have troubled Edward Snowden far back in his employment by the NSA. But there were other things that gave him pause: the astonishing license for ad hoc spying, for example, that was granted to those NSA data workers who had been awarded the relevant “authorities”—a bureaucratic synonym for permissions. “We could watch drone videos [of the private doings of families in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan] from desktops.” This, Snowden has said, was one of those things “that really hardened me.
Citizenfour, a documentary about the rise of mass, suspicionless surveillance and about the dissidents who have worked to expose it, naturally centers on Snowden; and most of the film concentrates on eight days in Hong Kong, during which Poitras filmed while the Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill introduced themselves, conducted searching interviews and conversations with Snowden, and came to know something of his character. The focus on a single person is consistent with the design of all three of the extraordinary films in the trilogy that Poitras has devoted to the war on terror.
The first, My Country, My Country (2006), covered a short stretch in the life of an Iraqi doctor, Riyadh al-Adhadh, during the American occupation of Baghdad. In the months before the election of January 2005, al-Adhadh was beset by a family in bad straits and by patients whose physical and emotional state had suffered terribly in the war. He resolved at that exigent moment to help his country by standing as a candidate for the assembly. When his Sunni party withdrew from participation, he was left disappointed and uncertain, his commitment invalidated by the very people he hoped to serve.
The Oath (2010) offered a portrait of Abu Jandal, a taxi driver in Yemen, initially famous only by association as the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan. It was Hamdan who suffered five years of imprisonment in Guantánamo before being tried on charges of conspiracy and “material support” of al-Qaeda. A deeply religious man, he was cleared by a military tribunal of the charge of conspiracy and transferred to Yemen, where he secluded himself and maintained an ascetic silence. (On October 16, 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court threw out Hamdan’s conviction on the remaining count, “material support” for terrorism, on the ground that it violated the constitutional ban on ex post facto prosecutions: the acts for which he was charged and convicted were not yet crimes when he performed them.)
As if between the lines of the film, it emerges that Abu Jandal himself—charismatic, masculine, a hero to the intellectual Muslim radicals who seek him out, yet touchingly gentle in the work of raising his five-year-old son—had been closer to bin Laden than the relative who was sent to Guantánamo. And even that is not the end: the protagonist is not what he seems at second glance any more than at first. He was once a committed jihadist, yet he was also full of doubts and capable of acting on his doubts. The film leaves him, as the earlier film had left the Iraqi doctor, uncertain and in suspense.
In the same way, we are left without a finished story at the end of Citizenfour. Snowden departs Hong Kong for Moscow, under the protection of human rights lawyers, hoping to fly from there to a Latin American country that will offer him refuge (probably Ecuador). But as we now know and the film reminds us, the US State Department revoked his passport and Snowden in Moscow is still in limbo. Though the film, in a kind of denouement, shows him reunited with his American girlfriend, visited by a political ally, Glenn Greenwald, and encouraged to hear that another whistle-blower has cropped up and disclosed the exorbitant scale of the American “watch list,” it is hard to know where his story will end.
Citizenfour gives a setting for Snowden’s action through its portrait of several other vivid personalities. . .
Later in the article:
Snowden is often called a “fanatic” or a “zealot,” a “techie” or a “geek,” by persons who want to cut him down to size. Usually these people have not listened to him beyond snippets lasting a few seconds on network news. But the chance to listen has been there for many months, in two short videos by Poitras on the website of The Guardian, and more recently in a full-length interview by the NBC anchorman Brian Williams. The temper and penetration of mind that one can discern in these interviews scarcely matches the description of fanatic or zealot, techie or geek.
An incidental strength of Citizenfour is that it will make such casual slanders harder to repeat. Nevertheless, they are likely to be repeated or anyway muttered in semiprivate by otherwise judicious persons who want to go on with their business head-down and not be bothered. It must be added that our past politics give no help in arriving at an apt description of Snowden and his action. The reason is that the world in which he worked is new. Perhaps one should think of him as a conscientious objector to the war on privacy—a respectful dissident who, having observed the repressive treatment endured by William Binney, Thomas Drake, and other recent whistle-blowers, does not recognize the constitutional right of the government to put him in prison indefinitely and bring him to trial for treason. His action constitutes a reproach to the many good citizens who have learned what is happening and done nothing about it. That, too, is surely a cause of the resentment that has a hard time finding the appropriate adjectives for Snowden.
“The right of privacy,” wrote the great scholar of constitutional law Herbert Packer inThe Limits of the Criminal Sanction (1968),
as implied by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, cannot be forced to give way to the asserted exigencies of law enforcement. The use of electronic surveillance constitutes just the kind of indiscriminate general search that helped to bring on the American Revolution and that the framers of the Constitution were alert to guard against. In the name of necessity this grant of power would permit an unscrupulous policeman or prosecutor to pry into the private lives of people almost at will. Knowledge that this was so would certainly inhibit the free expression of thoughts and feelings that makes life in our society worth living.
Packer’s understanding of the internalized character of free expression is close to Snowden’s language about the freedom of the Internet before it was watched. But as the film illustrates in detail, Snowden does not in fact oppose police work or the arrest of people dangerous to the country. The trouble, he says, is that the NSA has overseen the almost immeasurable expansion of “a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.” At the same time, Snowden goes further than many who call themselves libertarians. He believes that the American government has no more right to spy on private individuals in other countries than it does to spy on citizens of the United States.
In watching her films, one is always aware of the impact of the large institution on the person, but the person stands at the center of the portrayal. And in her trilogy about the war on terror, that institution is the state, the state, and the state: American power, with its long reach, its credulous belief in its own good intentions, its quenchless thirst for control, its devotion to expertise and system, and its heavy consequent burden of incompetence.
Definitely read this review. Its concluding paragraph:
The strangest revelation of Citizenfour may therefore be this: Snowden, in his hotel room with his journalistic confidants Greenwald and Poitras and MacAskill, affords a picture of a free man. It shows in his posture, and in a sense of humor touched by self-irony. He is not haunted by any fretful concern with what comes next. He is sure he has done something he chose, and sure that someone had to do it. He acted in obedience to a principle; and it was right that the actor should disappear in the action. Citizenfour, by simply using the real-life actor as a way to consider the nature of freedom, honors the premise that moved Snowden to take his unique and drastic step. “The final value of action,” wrote Emerson, “is, that it is a resource.” It is up to other Americans now, the uncertain end of Citizenfour says, to rouse ourselves and find the value of Snowden’s action as a resource.